Another look at Quinten Tarantino, and The Hateful Eight

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I saw The Hateful Eight upon its release a few years ago, despite the fact it was a Quinten Tarantino film. I am not a fan of his, but it was advertised as a Western and I am a huge fan of Westerns. However, considering Ruthless’ own Goat seems to like it, I allowed it might be worthy of reconsideration. Memories fade at my age, so I dialed up Netflix, relaxed and gave it another look.

It opens, after Tarantino’s auteur credit, on a frozen landscape reminiscent of the chillier aspects of Dr. Zhivago. In the distance, six hardy houses pulling a stage coach. A coach carrying John Ruth, Kurt Russell, a bounty hunter (bounty hunters are featured players in Tarantino westerns, despite the fact the profession did not exist. Without photographs with which to identify the wanted, it was tough to apprehend them. The technology did not exist that allowed photographs to be printed on posters, or in newspapers, assuming the villain had sat for a photo. It is how Jesse James spread havoc over the land for decades. The Pinkertons and others did not know what he looked like).

Ruth was taking his prisoner, Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, to Red Rock, Wyoming to collect the bounty on her murderous head. $10,000 dollars! After 12 years on the outlaw trail of murders, bank and train robberies, Jesse James was only worth $5000. Domergue was worth roughly $250,000 in 2015 dollars. Well, no one can accuse Tarantino of being an historian. Further evidence of that fact will follow).

Ruth is armed with preCivil War ordnance. Remington 1858 “Cattleman’s Carbine”, a weapon largely forgotten and with good reason. Notoriously unreliable and inaccurate and supplanted by the Henry and Spencer repeaters and the 1866 and 1873 Winchester rifles, none of which make an appearance in this film (see, the Internet Movie Firearms Database).

Here is where it gets good. The stage is stopped by Major Marquis Warren, Samual L. Jackson, late of the Union army and veteran of the Civil War. There is no possible way a black man of the time could rise to the rank of lieutenant, let alone to reach a majority. But, I will let that alone, but he is a remarkably well spoken for a man of the time.

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Yet another bounty hunter who believes a Wanted Dead or Alive poster constitutes a death warrant, due process not withstanding. He has three, count ’em three dead candidates for accounting at, yes, Red Rock! What a place for law!

The major pays his coach fare with a letter supposedly written by Abraham Lincoln. The president of the United States? None other.

Next up, the newly elected sheriff of Red Rock, Walton Goggins. In my naivety I thought sheriff was an elected county office, and marshal was a city appointment. How he was elected while out in the snow covered landscape is not explained. I will leave that alone. This is becoming like a pilgrimage to Canterbury.

A note on the highly offensive word, nigger, a word the adjective ‘overused’ in the case of this film is an understatement. Reportedly used over sixty times, with some nonsensical explanation about racially charged times.

But, this film is burdened with words. The characters never stop talking. There is no dialogue, the characters make speeches. Long, dull speeches saying the same thing over and over. Tarantino is not a cinematic director. He believes in tell it, don’t show it. However, he constantly moves the camera for no purpose.

Back in the coach, we arrive at the relay station, called here, Minnie’s Haberdashery (there is supposed to be a joke in there somewhere), where we encounter a congress of louts, including an ex Confederate general, Bruce Dern, still wearing his uniform in case you did not catch the dialogue.. Minnie is away, leaving Senor Bob in charge. Hmm, the Major is suspicious.

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(Note to art director: Out houses are not placed a hundred yards from the main building. The barn neither. I did not see the requisite corral for the horses, either, a standard for relay stations.)

Now we hear a seemingly endless stream of dialogue. Tarantino fancies himself a vulgarian Noel Coward. My God, talk, talk, talk.

Ruth goes paranoid and disarms a few of the louts. The general tells us he is out in Wyoming looking for his son, also a Confederate, who disappeared in the wilds. The Major confesses he captured the son, tortured and raped him (in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, the exPresident asks, “Is he what we called when I was a boy, a de-generate?” Yes, Mr. President, he is). The Major taunts the old man with the story of the rape, and then murders him.

Tarantino steps in with voice-over narration, explaining the action verbally because he could not do it visually. It seems one of the louts just happens to have a small vile of odorless, colorless and tasteless poison (Locusta of Ancient Rome resurrected to 19th Century Wyoming). Would a competent director use such a hackneyed story device, he would have foreshadowed it’s appearance. In order to fire Chekhov’s rifle on the wall, we first must see it on the wall. With Tarantino, things just pop up like frogs in a dynamite pond.

This chapter is titled: Goodbye John Ruth, it keeping with Tarantino’s lack of visual transitions. Yes, the bounty hunter drinks the poisoned coffee, a caustic judging from the blood he and another throwaway character vomit up. Ruth saves his final puke for Daisy’s face. Please note.

Things get ugly (er). The Major forms an alliance with the Sheriff and gets the drop on the remaining louts. The Major threatens to shoot them, five times he tells them. Everything is stated and restated in this film. In dialogue, not visually.

The Major becomes Mr. Monk, or Philo Vance: this is the way it happened. Then he lays out the elements of the flashback we will see in a few minutes. The gang is there to free young Daisy, and to do so they murdered Minnie and company, and now are just waiting the chance when Ruth’s guard is down to spring into action. It was the flavor of stew, clearly made by Minnie, and her dislike of Mexicans the tip-off. She would have never turned over the relay station to Senor Bob, the lone Mexican, the Major tells us. However, earlier in the day she welcomed Senior Bob along with the other louts. Well, she liked everybody.

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Anyway, the louts kill Minnie and friends, saving the old general so that he is available for the Major to murder later on.

Near the end of the flashback we get even more narration explaining what happens. They plan the ambush, and Daisy’s outlaw brother drops into a hidey-hole where he quietly remains for the first two thirds of the film. Musta been cold down there.

In the “present”, another round of shooting leaving only the characters with honorifics, and poor doomed Daisy, whose only discernible crime is a dirty mouth.

So hell, The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley, and it sure did for this gang.

So, what’s left? The Major and his minor, the Sheriff, are shot and dying, and Daisy will never make it to the gallows. Or, will she?

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Lets have a party, a necktie party! With their dying breaths they hoist up Daisy by the neck to die by strangulation. They had a good laugh over that one.

A good editor, even a poor one, could chop thirty minutes out of Hateful Eight without losing the Tarantino touch. Tarantino seems influenced by Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, he is sure not influenced by John Ford or Sam Peckinpah.

It is not a Western story, having it roots in the West, like The Searchers or The Wild Bunch or Red River. More than anything the plot brings to mind 1954s Suddenly, directed by Lewis Allen and staring Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden, about a presidential assassination.

I am sure he will continue making films like this, what with so many fans to please.

About John Welsh

When I was young, cinema was my religion and the theater was my church. No matter how bad new releases may appear, my faith endures. I have worked in movie post-production, production, as a story analyst, property master, script supervisor; just about anything that is required in low budget, nonUnion films.