Written by guest contributor Dave Fox
At some point, all genius filmmakers lose their way. Francis Ford Coppola made Jack. Steven Spielberg was behind the camera for Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Michael Scorsese directed Gangs Of New York. And after the near-perfect run of three films that kicked off his career, Quentin Tarantino can join the list of directors who lost their way after following up Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown with four films that wasted good ideas and even better casts.
That's not to say that lost directors can't make comebacks. Lincoln and Bridge Of Spies proved Spielberg still had the chops to make a good film, while Scorsese scored hits with Shutter Island and The Wolf Of Wall Street. For many, the hope was that The Hateful Eight would set Tarantino on the path back to greatness.
It certainly has a promising premise. In an unhealed, post civil war America, bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his carriage driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks) are transporting wanted murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock to be hanged. When they are caught in a blizzard they pick up two fellow travelers - bounty hunter and disgraced former solider Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and the would-be new Sheriff of the town Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins).
Unable to reach Red Rock due to the snowfall, they stop over at a cabin called Minnie's Haberdashery, which is in the temporary control of a mysterious Mexican named Senor Bob (Demian Bichir). There they meet others bound for Red Rock and beyond - the hangman of Red Rock, Oswald Mobray (Tim Roth), ex-Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) and sullen cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). Ruth soon deduces that one - or more - of the inhabitants of the haberdashery are in league with Domergue and plotting her escape. He forms an uneasy alliance with Warren to find out who's plotting against him. In the meantime, there's also a rescue plot staged by Domergue's brother Jody (Channing Tatum) to deal with.
The plot and setting are reminiscent of the classic Reservoir Dogs, the film that launched Tarantino's career, but the similarities don't extend much further than that. The idea of these characters, each with their own rich backstory and shady motivation, in a tense standoff is an exciting one, but sadly a film that could be a thrilling ride is instead a slog - The Hateful Eight is as slow as a horse trudging through a blizzard. The film takes an age to get the haberdashery, and when it does it still moves, as John Ruth would say, "molasses-like".
There are more problems here than the pacing, though. Tarantino's films have always relied on the writer/director's ear for dialogue, but in the Western setting, his attempts at period-speak often hit the ear wrong. Thankfully he has a cast of talented actors who can, at times, spin gold from his thin threads. Samuel L. Jackson's easy charisma and underlying menace carry the film, while Walton Goggins gives the kind of scene stealing performance that can catapult a career into the stratosphere (even if his Gomer Pyle-esque accent takes some getting used to). Jennifer Jason Leigh, meanwhile, as the cackling unrepentant outlaw Daisy Domergue, imbues the unlikeable character with an unexpected resilience.
Elsewhere, Roth plays Mobray with a twinkly-eyed sense of fun that suggests he studied Christoph Waltz' Django Unchained performance closely, but Maden is underused as the gruff Joe Gage and General Smithers doesn't give Bruce Dern much of a chance to flex his acting muscles. Tatum excels, cast against type in a small role, and his scenes here suggest he could make a menacing villain in the right project.
It's the interplay between the actors that saves the film from sinking under its own weight. By this point in his career, Tarantino is clearly in love with his own voice: rather than edit Kill Bill down into a manageable film, he split it in two. Half of Death Proof was entirely unnecessary, but was somehow spared the cutting room floor. Both Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained were flabby and contained unneeded detours that distracted from the story. The hope was that The Hateful Eight would bring Tarantino back to his roots. But it did not do so. Remember, Reservoir Dogs ran at a taught 99 minutes. Instead of that, this film runs to a bloated 167 minutes.
Clearly someone, somewhere, needs to make sure Tarantino harshly edits his films in future - but let's face it, it won't happen. No one will say no to Quentin as long as his films keep bringing in money, and they do. Those of us who were once enraptured by his genius will have to simply hope that he realizes where he has gone wrong, and knows how to fix it. Maybe then the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino will finally live up to his lofty reputation.
The Hateful Eight Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino Studio: Double Feature Films Running time: 167 minutes Release date: 12/30/15