Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen all of Tarantino’s other movies. Of the ones I have seen, Reservoir Dogs is my favorite.
Hateful Eight opens with bounty hunter John Ruth and his bounty, Daisy, crossing paths with fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren. They’re all headed to the same town to claim their bounties–Warren with some dead bounties, Ruth with his alive so as to get the pleasure of her being hanged–when they run into the alleged sheriff of the town they’re off to. In the middle of a blizzard, they stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where four other men are already hunkered down, and then Tarantino’s fun begins.
Warren notices something is off pretty quick–for one, Minnie, her husband, and the rest of the haberdashery staff aren’t there. A man claiming he’s been put in charge explains that they’re out visiting Minnie’s family, but Warren isn’t buying it. And as the film progresses, we see Warren notice some things that are a little off and express his suspicions and his reasons for them pretty openly, and before long, it becomes pretty clear that people aren’t quite who they say they are.
And this is where my love of Reservoir Dogs comes in–while the plot itself is pretty different, some of the major themes and conflicts are the same. People are lying about who they are and what they’re doing, and by the end, the film turns into a bit of a whodunnit. It’s fun and interesting, complete with some plot twists, but something about it just falls flat. For me, I think part of it is structure and narrative device. The film is split into “chapters,” which actually work really well. The catch is that in the middle of the movie, Tarantino decides to backtrack a bit and show the audience something that was happening in the midst of a graphic monologue from Warren (we’ll come back to that later). And this is accompanied by a voice-over narration that hasn’t been employed in the movie elsewhere until this point, and I think it’s unnecessary. This setup could’ve been done a totally different way, sans narration, and still be incredibly effective. In fact, I’d argue leaving out the narration and spelling out what happened would’ve made for a more shocking, more interesting twist. I mean, as an audience, exactly what happened would’ve become pretty obvious one way or another later.
And what’s surprising about this is that Tarantino generally isn’t the type to spell things out for his audience, nor is he the type to tone things down. The closer the movie gets to its ending and climax, the more gore Tarantino gives us. And while I don’t have a problem with gore per se, there were times when it felt gratuitous. That monologue of Warren’s that I mentioned? Although it’s pretty clearly a setup to piss off another character and didn’t really contain anything horrible for a 2016 moviegoer, I found it distracting. It felt like something tossed in mostly for shock value–same with most of the visual gore and violence. I even joked that it’s like Tarantino gets a nasty, violent, graphic scene in his head and builds a plot around it, although that does minimize the writing and plot of this a bit because it’s not at all poorly written or plotted. It just feels like Tarantino really, really wants to make a mess, and maybe make people uncomfortable in the process. That said, this is kind of to be expected from Tarantino, and between the gore and the plot twists and the somewhat nonlinear storytelling, it’s typical Tarantino. It just doesn’t quite get on the level of a lot of his past work.
But the cast does. Everyone is excellent, and a lot of Tarantino regulars are back. Warren is played wonderfully by Samuel L. Jackson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh was an impressive Daisy. My favorite, though–and here comes Reservoir Dogs again–was Tim Roth. I love him, and I’m glad to see him in a film again.
Bottom line: liked it but didn’t love it. It’s worth going to see, especially if you’re a Tarantino fan because you like to see blood everywhere.