“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962, dir. John Ford.

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker deeply concerned with legend. That is the legend of cinema; for nearly three decades he has blazed his own trail through the interconnected web of cinema past, using reference to carve his own niche and in the process gain a rare level of critical and commercial acclaim. However, one of the more consistent criticisms of his work has been an almost juvenile attitude that is associated with his style, and whether a side effect of his particular brand of reference pool and his personal perspective upon them, his films often do very little to quell the idea of Tarantino as a filmmaker of style over substance, arguably at its nadir with Django Unchained, a film in which indulgence ballooned. However, Tarantino has decided to follow his last western…with an instant return to that most hallowed of American film genres. The result is more than just a return to form, but an outlier in Tarantino’s oeuvre, almost a culminating and reflective point of his career, that is as thrillingly enjoyable as it is complex in its layering of ideology and cultural legacy.

The Hateful Eight finds eight wandering souls brought together, seemingly by the hands of fate, to Minnie’s Habedashery as they try to avoid a menacing blizzard. However, one of the eight is a wanted felon from the law with $10,000 reward on her head. Who can trust who when a bounty sits on the line…and freedom stands so agonisingly close.

The film is, in essence, a simple structure of a chamber piece filled with questions of identity, trust and loyalty. In truth, it is not ground breaking or challenging in terms of this basic model of narrative. However, where The Hateful Eight shines is in just how adroit Tarantino is in the execution of this form, and his layering of reference and meaning within. The breadth of reference within The Hateful Eight is particularly impressive in its ability to embolden without distracting. From classic mythical westerns, in particular the journey of Stagecoach and scope of Once Upon a Time in the West, to nihilistic paranoia and excess of 80’s horror, most notably John Carpenter’s The Thing and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead; and even taking a stop through the legend of his own cinema in the brazen attitude and casting references toward Reservoir Dogs. All these tones, moods and styles correlate perfectly, as the combination of references feel like a cascade of history, flowing directly into the heart of The Hateful Eight.

Visually, in my opinion, The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s greatest achievement. From the very first extended, achingly slow pull from a Crucifix, with the approach of a stagecoach menacingly drawn out in the foreground (an image that stands as a beautiful homage to the vision of Sergio Leone), the imagery holds tremendous power and Tarantino, to his credit is able to utilise the grandeur that the 70mm Panavision scale provides him, while still communicating his usual visual staccato, pushing both to new extremes; a vast canvas that extends his vision into an epic scale the which he hasn’t really displayed in the past, and yet, with his cinematic intelligence, is perfect for. It is truly painterly at times in its composition and willingness to make both broad and unusual brushstrokes. Alongside the impact of the imagery, the importance of Ennio Morricone’s score cannot be over looked. A connection to both the Italian Westerns of Leone, and more importantly, the creeping dread and intensity of The Thing, Morricone’s eerie tone imbue the film’s iconic imagery with a thrilling balance of poise and fury, stirring the intensity until the dam inevitable bursts, foreshadowing the trademark violence that Tarantino so tightly contains is unleashed in an overwhelming frenzy.

However, as focused and magnificently realised as The Hateful Eight is in relation to Tarantino’s recent works, it still contains moments of ill-discipline, in particular in terms of the representation and treatment of Daisy Domergue. From her first words, she is represented as something more feral than woman; her mannerisms are ill-mannered and racial slurs towards Samuel L Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren almost snarled. However, her behaviour is reacted to with sheer physical violence –kicked, punched and quite simply abused by the male characters, precisely for a pattern of behaviour shared by the male characters in the film. As the film progresses the violence becomes greater, and as she is battered and bruised she becomes more and more, quite frankly animalistic and demonic in appearance, as if all the layers of femininity have been pulled away. It could be argued this representation is a comment on a code of male violence and its destructive nature; however, in one particularly horrific scene, Tarantino’s depiction of violence towards Domergue is framed in such a gleefully celebratory and almost triumphant expression of male victory that it personally felt tremendously uncomfortable and misogynistic. A moment that perhaps deserved a banal reverence is transformed by Tarantino’s excessive pop-glamorisation of brutality, a trend that still echoes with a disconcerting detachment.

Perhaps the most magnificent masterstroke of Tarantino’s film is to reflect the death of the mythic west alongside the death of a past cinema, in all of its titanic excess and almost quaint belief in its own legend. A time when the images flew off the screen from their own weight and the sheer might of their spectacle. This is a eulogy for the old cinema, the ghosts of the past revived once more and emboldened within the carnage of Tarantino’s macabre vision; at once bastardized and anointed, echoing the chimes of a melancholic rhythm. Like the great westerns of old, the film feels as if it goes beyond the rigid prison of the frame, seeping out into some fantasy space we can never touch…but dare imagine and mythologise. If John Ford conjured the iconic line I began this review with to mark the death knell of his generation of western cinema, perhaps in the final images of Tarantino’s Hateful Eight, the modern iconoclast delivers his own uncanny epilogue to that statement. As the Lincoln paper, the physicalized dispelled legend at the heart of the film is read aloud; the legend breathes heavily its last breath…and is celebrated for all its dishonesty, before being crunched in the blood-soaked hands of a dying character and cast away. The legend is not in the paper; its not in the men who used it…the legend is in the dying of them. Here, the legend and the fact here are one in the same: death. A lie about a dead man, told by dead men.

The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s ode to the death of that legend. He prints the legend to reveal the fact. And in this exquisite frisson, stands as perhaps his most accomplished achievement; a narrative of lies that tell a truth…and a directorial vision that speaks as much about the truth of modern cinema as it does the lies of cinema myth.

 

Movie Review: The Hateful Eight
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk