The Hateful Eight ★★★★

I had forgotten how we all went apeshit for the 70mm version of this when it came out. I watched it solo at a 10pm show, my wife home alone with our year and half son. That felt extravagant and wasteful, I definitely had a beer at the upscale theater, and another during the intermission (the intermission!), which I regretted when I had to piss 2/3 of the way through the second act.

So it’s appropriate that I came back to this one by way of format, in this case a recut and rerelease on Netflix. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy, let alone appreciate, the episodic format but I think it serves this film really well. I ended up taking it in over three nights — the first two episodes at once, then three then four on subsequent nights. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, that I value my sleep, or that I’ve got more vying for my attention, but I liked this approach.

Tarantino makes moves that are about America inasmuch as they’re about anything. As such, they’re messy, brutal, racist, contradictions. He will often use this as a way to excuse some of his lazy shortcuts (the violence, the racism, the misogyny, his favorite epithet), however it’s hard to deny the way he reflects America back at herself.

The Hateful Eight may be his first film, with the possible exception of Jackie Brown, with coherent politics instead of just shoving our nose in all the ugliness. The stagecoach conversation between Marquis Warren and Chris Mannix alone is a smart refutation of the kind of postbellum history that white Americans are all too comfortable not thinking about. Walton Goggis is, by all accounts, a wonderful human being but I want to punch him in the throat for how good his portrayal (at least through the film’s first half) of everything wrong with white America.

This one is such a slow simmer, but one where the tension never fully dissipates. This is where the episodic format actually serves well and something I can remember dragging in the theater.

Tarantino’s films have always been darkly funny, or at least full of pitch black jokes. In this tradition, the busted door and Bob plucking the chicken at the piano are genuinely hilarious.

Morricone’s score feels both completely appropriate and weirdly tacked on. I’m very conscious that I’m listening to a Morricone score — it feels like a distinct character not integrated into the film. It’s almost like the worlds biggest movie nerd made a western and just had to have Morricone do the music...

Tarantino has never been subtle, including his references and allusions. At this point he’s starting to treat his own body of work as something to be mined, so we have a gut shot Tim Roth, a crucial character beneath the floorboards, Sam Jackson as the chief badass, Michael Madsen’s aloof snarl. This isn’t a complaint so much as an observation I reckon.

This is very much a Tarantino film, with all its ugly brutality, but with moments of genuine beauty in the vistas of the American West that are quite possibly our greatest natural wonders. Robert Richardson, whose beautiful camera work has pulled Tarantino away from pure grunge, filmed something truly spectacular with his use of this super-wide format and practically archaic equipment.

There’s been some commentary about how “prescient” The Hateful Eight was, coming as it did a year before the ongoing tragedy of late 2016. If anything, Tarantino is showing us it wasn’t prescient at all but us all along.

Jennifer Jason Leigh was spectacular in all the worst ways, abused and defiled, loathsome, pitiless, cruel and savage to the end. The misogyny directed at her is as a subtle as any other rhetoric Tarantino tries on (which is to say: it isn’t). There might be a bit of commentary to be found in the way that white women have lashed themselves to white supremacy, even at their own peril, but that’s certainly a bit of a reach.

I wasn’t expecting to revisit this one, maybe ever. I remembered liking, if not loving it, finding parts of it hard to stomach as I often find Tarantino’s films to be (I doubt I’ll ever subject myself to the revenge porn of Django Unchained again). In the end, the format won me over. Give it a go if that’s your thing.