In general, I steer clear of absolutes. You’ll never hear me say (unless I’m joking), “that was the best game ever played,” “they’re the best team that’s ever existed,” or “that was the best movie ever made.” Those are opinions and opinions are subjective; they differ depending who you ask. Besides, as soon as you say it, something better comes along. On the other hand, I have plenty of favorite things; I like them regardless of their quality.
Now that you know that about me, I will say that The Hateful Eight is not only my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie, but it’s also the best movie he’s made… so far. That’s going out on a limb for me. I can easily tell you why it’s my favorite, but I may have a more difficult time expressing why I think it’s his best. It’s hard to believe it’s been 23 years since the writer/director exploded onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs, but perhaps harder to believe his product is sharper than ever.
Perhaps the best way to explain how I feel about The Hateful Eight is to say that for a movie that I was not eager to sit through because it runs over three hours, I would gladly have turned right around and watched it a second time. It may not be what you’d expect from a Tarantino film: there’s not a lot of action. It’s very talky and most of it takes place in an isolated cabin in the mountains where its inhabitants trapped in a blizzard.
But oh, that dialogue! It’s as dramatic and entertaining and suspenseful as any scene with physical action. Of course, it wouldn’t have worked without actors who can deliver. The characters are a hateful eight, but the actors are a great eight: Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern and Demian Bichir. No one of them is better than the other, although the characters of Jackson and Goggins are the meatiest.
Each one arrives at the cabin with little known about their backgrounds. John Ruth (Russell) is a bounty hunter taking Daisy Domergue (Leigh) to Red Rock, Wyoming, to be hanged for her crimes. En route, they pick up Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), a bounty hunter who prefers to deliver his bounty dead, and Chris Mannix (Goggins), who claims to be the new mayor of Red Rock. When they arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery for refuge from the storm, they meet the other four.
Bob (Bichir) is a Mexican who tells the new customers that he’s watching the business while Minnie and her husband are away. Oswaldo Mobray (Roth) says he’s the hangman for Red Rock. General Sandy Smithers (Dern) is a Civil War veteran who happened to face Warren on the battlefield. Although there’s something suspicious about all their stories, we know the least about Joe Gage (Madsen), and he’s the first one to be blamed when things ultimately go wrong.
And boy do they go wrong! That’s when a more familiar Tarantino reveals his cards and the situation erupts in bloody violence. The language can be a little tough to hear; remember that it’s post-Civil War and you have a white general from the North stuck in a room with a black Major from the South. However, the physical violence can be really tough to watch; it’s so sudden, though, that you have no time to cover your eyes.
So these are reasons The Hateful Eight is my favorite Tarantino movie: the script, the dialogue, the acting and the fact that it’s something unexpected. Why do I think it’s his best movie? It’s because as a director, he shows great patience and maturity in delivering the script, the dialogue, the acting and something unexpected. It could easily have been the familiar Tarantino for the entire three hours, but he’s able to masterfully reign himself in for a more intimate unraveling of the plot.
The Hateful Eight is not perfect, but what is? I appreciate the homage it pays to epics of days gone by: it begins with an Overture and includes an Intermission. However, the Intermission disrupted the pace for me just as I almost couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next. On the other hand, it is strategically placed. When the movie resumes after ten minutes of black screen (why isn’t “Intermission” projected during this time?), it has a different tone and is almost a different movie.
Post-Intermission is certainly when the violence erupts, but it is also when there is suddenly a narrator (is it Tarantino?) recapping the story so far and revealing secrets that we may not have noticed in the first part. A large part of it is a flashback depicting how the second group of four arrived at Minnie’s Haberdashery, and it’s not quite as revealing or entertaining as the first group of four and their arrival. Back in the present, though, it all comes together in Hitchcockian ways.
Finally, The Hateful Eight is a lot funnier than I imagined it would be, more so as it goes on. It’s not from the situation or events; it’s from the characters and the dialogue. The more we get to know them, the funnier their words become. I haven’t even mentioned the widescreen, wintry vistas of which Tarantino is so proud. Yeah, they’re good, but they’re not close to being the best part of the movie. The best part takes place within the confines of four wooden walls.