To be brief: I really liked the film, BUT I don’t know if I loved it - or liked it enough to own it on DVD/blu ray/whatever comes out next. I don’t think I’d pay theater prices a second time, either, but that has as much to do with my middle-aged stay-homeness and the rich tapestry of the current crop of movies as with my opinion of this film.
The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s eighth movie, according to its introduction. I looked it up on IMdB and counted at least ten films that were exclusively his, as opposed to his writing credits, or directing television shows or the like, so I think he’s playing with viewers here. I think that’s fair. It’s visually stunning, with brilliant cinematography and a great use of setting to set the stage for his story.
Tarantino does a solid job in the western genre, which almost pleads for a subtle combination of traditional storytelling and groundbreaking genre-bending. Tarantino stays close to the traditional mores here, and the cast and writing is first-rate. Because he’s Tarantino, you know it’s going to be a very graphic movie, and it does not disappoint. In fact, his graphic depictions of violence are not even new to the genre, and not because this is his second western (Django Unchained having come out two years prior) – Sam Peckinpah was shocking viewers with gritty violence back in the 1970s, and his was more realistic.
It is, however, Tarantino’s unrepentant penchant for graphic – I do mean graphic – violence that finally undoes the film for me in many ways. His violence is gratiuitous and unrealistic*, and it ends up feeling like a Technicolor yawn rather than story-motivated violence. This is the problem: when Tarantino, who has clearly restrained himself for much of the film, finally lets himself loose, the tightly-woven story he was telling virtually disappears into a melee of Tarantino … well, being Tarantino. He gets in his own way in telling the story, for me, and I am jarred out of the suspension of disbelief and immediately I’m not worried about a character being shot, or hanged, or disemboweled … I’m suddenly no longer in his fictive world, but am once again sitting in a theater and thinking (perhaps with shock and dismay) at how graphic this film is.
One other thing, as long as I’m grousing. The other point about the film that bothered me is that everyone dies, and frankly, I’m not okay with that. I understand that there are philosophical and narrative theories that can account for this, with omniscient third-person narrators and what-not, but I can’t shake my old university fiction professor’s admonition that if a writer kills off ALL his characters, the question remains unanswered about who lived to tell the tale? This is not a small question, and creates a lingering problem for some viewers – like myself. I concede that it’s not an insurmountable problem, and in our post-postmodern world viewers are likely unfazed by such a narrative wrinkle. Perhaps my problem is that I’m essentially old-fashioned, and I want to see someone – almost anyone - make it out of this chaotic mess alive. I want a good old-fashioned (see?) hero to rise above the violence and establish the moral certainty that grit can see you through. But Tarantino doesn’t play that game, and maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
*I’m not normally dissuaded by graphic violence, but Tarantino’s use of blood and exploding heads is cartoonish, almost Monte Python-esque. This is almost a signature style of his, but it worked in the Kill Bill series precisely because those movies were an homage to a B-film martial arts genre in which this approach was a better fit.