8 Is A Hateful Number
On the wall of my old office there used to be a Reservoir Dogs poster signed by Quentin Tarantino, thanking us for helping to make his first film a hit in the UK after it flopped in the US. I liked the film and loved Pulp Fiction more, but Kill Bill damaged my taste for the maverick director and raised too many uncomfortable questions about him.
Inglorious Basterds put him back on track, and now here we are at eight out of a supposed ten before he gives up directing. The film is even labelled as such. And sure enough, The Hateful 8 is a real one-off genre-splice, perverse and refreshing, but ultimately pointless and confirming of one’s worst suspicions. It’s a hybrid western-whodunnit that puts the ‘stage’ in ‘stagecoach’ (a genre I can only recall in one other instance, A Big Hand For The Little Lady), shot in a rare old format for its roadshow release in the US, Panavision 70 – pointlessly so, you first think, because it’s mostly set in a single room. That’s before Tarantino’s intentions make themselves clear.
Because what he’s done here conforms to this year’s trend, a remixed greatest-hits package of familiar faces, salty dialogue and homages to other (better) films. The widescreen format has clearly been used to evoke the grandeur of Once Upon A Time In The West, and even boasts a score by the still amazing Ennio Morricone. The familiar faces include Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Madsen. I half expected Eli Wallach to return from the grave, just for the chance to be in it. Tarantino’s dialogue massively overuses the N-word until you have to reach the conclusion that he just loves the sound of it, and Jennifer Jason Leigh gets punched in the face so many times you reach a similar troubling conclusion about the director and women.
Stripped of its comic doggone-dadblasted-varmint-style western dialogue, the plot feels like Agatha Christie on an off-day. The titular eight (or thereabouts) are holed up in a snowed-in haberdashery store the size of an aircraft hangar with no haberdashery in sight. They’ll be there for two days, and we’re trapped with them for close to three hours. The first half is wall-to-wall dialogue, although the characters say almost nothing of interest or importance. The second half is wall-to-wall bloodshed to even less purpose – nobody is simply sick when they can projectile-vomit their blood-soaked guts out, and Jason Leigh grins inanely through thickening layers of gore while being treated with astonishing cruelty. Oh, and there’s a structure that harks back to Pulp Fiction.
What astounds me is that this sometimes brilliant director can produce something supremely elegant and hopelessly lazy in almost equal measure. Could it be that the work from his hired help is more thorough and committed than his own input?
Confrontational cinema can’t shock without a point. So at No. 8 with 2 still to go, what we have is experience and immaturity bringing out the best and worst of this polarised and polarising filmmaker. Expect much lenience from fawning British critics, led as usual by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. Perhaps others will provide more astringency.