The Hateful  8 – A tale told by an idiot

Main cast

Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren a.k.a. “The Bounty Hunter”

Kurt Russell as John Ruth a.k.a. “The Hangman”

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue a.k.a. “The Prisoner”

Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix a.k.a.”The Sheriff”

Demián Bichir as Bob (Marco the Mexican) a.k.a. “The Mexican”

Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray (English Pete Hicox) a.k.a. “The Little Man”

Michael Madsen as Joe Gage (Grouch Douglass) a.k.a. “The Cow Puncher”

Bruce Dern as General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers a.k.a. “The Confederate”

Director and narrator: Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino is a very annoying director, not least because he is still playing the enfant terrible at an age when the thrill of provoking  adults should be long past.  The Hateful Eight contains all  his filmic outraging  stigmata: a great deal of bad and very un-pc language including oodles of “nigger” from the white characters  and  a decent helping of “cracker”  from the sole black character;  much  gory slaughter plus  a new outraging element  in the  Tarantino canon, the frequent brutal treatment of a woman including heavy  punches to her face and her  eventual  death by hanging by suspension.  If his works were classified as torture porn  he could not complain.

The annoying thing is despite his adolescent  mentality and the predictability of the general content and  style of his films, Tarantino so  often makes films  which are insidiously  watchable. We know what to expect ; we know objectively  that we should not approve   of the amoral  world he creates, we know that there will probably be no character who enlists our sympathy or liking,  but he still entices us in and we end up being drawn  to what he produces as spectators are drawn to a motorway  multiple crash.. It is a bit like watching Stanley Matthews  taking on a left back: the left back knew exactly what Matthews would do – drop his right shoulder and go round him – yet it was odds on that Matthews would  sell him a dummy and send him the wrong way.

The plot of Hateful 8  is simple in principle but complex in portrayal because the full facts of the situation are only gradually revealed.   The time is not long after the end of the American Civil War.   John Ruth  (Kurt Russell) is a white  bounty hunter who  likes to take his captures alive to stand trial not because he has any concern for justice, dearie me no,  he simply  likes to see them hang. As a consequence he has earned  the nickname . “The Hangman”.   Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is a black bounty hunter who takes the rule “dead or alive” to be best observed  by  the “dead” part of the injunction.

Ruth and Warren  are bringing in wanted criminals with handsome bounties attached.  Their destination is  Red Rock, Wyoming.  Ruth  has  a live woman Daisy Domergue  (Jennifer Jason Leigh)  in his custody while  Warren is packing two decidedly dead bodies.  Domergue is part of a notorious criminal  gang headed by her brother, Jody.

The two bounty hunters meet when a stage coach with Ruth and Domergue in it   is stopped by Warren who  climbs aboard. Another passenger  Chris Mannix  (Walton Goggins) is picked up a little later on.  He claims to be the newly appointed sheriff of   Red Rock travelling to the town to take up his position.

The stagecoach stops at  a roadhouse called Minnie’s Haberdashery  to shelter from an ever worsening snowstorm.  Minnie isn’t there but Southern General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a seeming drifter  Joe Cage (Michael Madsen) who claims to be a cowboy  on his way to visit his mother, and an  English conman and  part-time hangman called Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth) are in residence together  with  Bob “Marco the Mexican” (Demián Bichir, ) who  claims to be  in charge  of the place because  Minnie is visiting her mother.    From the time that the stage coach arrives the  action is set  in or just outside  the roadhouse.

So far so seemingly  simple. Tarantino has created the West’s equivalent of a country  house murder mystery, a cast of characters all neatly stacked in a  tightly confined physical setting.  He even   uses the device loved by the likes of Agatha Christie  whereby there is an examination of  the suspects to a murder (in this case several murders through poisoning with a particularly toxic elixir of death)  while all the suspects are  together. However, unlike a country house murder mystery this is eventually a very  bloody and violent film which can vie with Tarantino’s  Inglorious Basterds or Pulp Fiction for its unashamed delight in gruesome  killing and the infliction of pain..

But the seemingly simple is in reality anything but simple. Apart from General Smithers  none of those who are  at the roadhouse when Ruth and Warren arrive are  what they claim to be and even  General Smithers is acting under duress. Even  Warren shows himself to be  a fantasist at best  by falsely claiming to have a personal  letter written  to him by Abraham Lincoln.

The action in the roadhouse starts relatively quietly with the characters  verbally  fencing with one another, although from the start there is a heavy mist of mutual suspicion,  before  accelerating  into the type of general mayhem  Tarantino loves.   By the end of the film everyone is dead or dying.   Goodies and baddies do not come into it because all the characters are seriously flawed moral  beings.

With the snowstorm raging unabated outside , the story  evolves  with clever use of time shifting as the true nature and circumstances of  those in Minnie’s Haberdashery  when Ruth and Warren arrive  is revealed  through flashbacks. This gives  the action  a staccato quality, especially towards the last third of the film,  as the immediate moment is increasingly  interrupted by  scenes from the recent past .  But this does not matter because the film is not  primarily concerned, as is common with  Tarantino’s films, with a conventional plot. Rather, he is offering the audience a sequence of arresting scenes to constantly capture their attention and   from which  scenes the plot eventually emerges.

There is  a high quality  cast with Kurt Russell  excelling in particular as the  type of self-sufficient frontiersman  character with a  time-beaten face who used to be a staple in Hollywood Westerns. Jennifer Jason  Leigh is stoical but also inexplicably calm until the story unravels to show the true purpose of those already at Minnie’s when Ruth, Warren and Domergue  arrive.  It is true that the main characters  have an large element of  caricature but that is all part of  the Tarantino method , something  Samuel Jackson is especially honours at as he goes splendidly over the top with his character.

Is the film an empty vessel sounding loud?  Looked at rationally the answer is yes because in the end there is no characters who enlist the sympathy of the audience and as is common with Tarantino there seems very little overall point or meaning . He subscribes to MacBeth’s lament “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”   But the thing is  cleverly done  and intriguing spectacle has its place in the cinema.  Worth seeing as a guilty pleasure.

 

Advertisements
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: