Film Review: The Hateful Eight

by Sam Robinson & Keith Hill

Rated R18+. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Quentin Tarantino just won’t let up on the bloodshed.

The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, and his second western, following 2012’s Django Unchained. Be warned from the outset that this is more violent, crude and shocking than his last foray into the wild, wild, west – which is surprising considering that the majority of the film takes place in a cabin.

This western is set some time after the American Civil War, in the middle of a snowstorm on the road to Red Rock, Wyoming. Bounty Hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell) is travelling on a stage coach with prisoner Daisy Domergue (Leigh) and meets Major Warren (Jackson) on the way. From the outset, racist slurs and misogynistic cracks and abuse come thick and fast. The stagecoach winds up at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where for a (long) night they join a group of men sheltering from a blizzard. Cabin fever sets in, and a mystery is unravelled.

We got to attend the Australian premiere of The Hateful Eight, and Tarantino, Russell and Jackson were all in attendance. They actually sat with us through the whole film – all 3+ hours of it – and we were treated to a screening in Panavision 70mm, a rare film format which gives a stunning shine to the movie, particularly the snow exteriors. We did feel though, that once inside the haberdashery (which is more than half of the film), the 70mm got a little lost in the mix. It must be noted also that Ennio Morricone has created a perfect score for this – brash, loud, and dated.

Perhaps the biggest problem with The Hateful Eight is the pacing. It is very slow – there are long, drawly, runs of dialogue between the outlaws – it’s very much a stage play for the screen – even down to the chapter markings and twelve-minute intermission we experienced. It really only hits its strides by chapter five (of six). When there are gags they are done to death. The front door that blows open in the blizzard featured so much, it may as well have been credited as the 9th character. Perhaps the biggest question to ponder now is – where to from here? The Hateful Eight is a well-executed film, however we’ve seen all of this before. The over-the-top violence is staple Tarantino, yet it doesn’t surprise or shock as much as it used to. We expect it now, and he now walks a fine line between being inventive and a parody of himself. Also there are points when you can tell Tarantino wants to teach some lessons – particularly with regards to racism and misogyny – but these messages aren’t made particularly well and just sink into the background of what is a very bloody finale.

What is clear is Tarantino’s idea of justice. In an early scene, we see Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), Red Rock’s town hangman, lecture Domergue, the woman it will be his job to hang, on the difference between ‘frontier justice’ and true justice. The difference, as he sees it, is passion:

“Justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice.”

The moment that emotions become involved, there is a risk that justice will devolve into something more sinister. It is incumbent on Mobray to take no pleasure in his job, nor to feel any pity.

While distinction is true for our own, human, pursuit of justice, and one that our legal system depends on, the Bible won’t let us say the same thing of God. Though it’s tempting to think of God as dispassionate when it comes to the ultimate execution of justice, Scripture instead shows us a God who is unapologetically passionate when it comes to punishing sin. Our transgressions are a personal affront to God which do not merely require a penalty to be paid, but stir up God’s wrath, a personal, passionate response that must be turned away if we are to be reconciled to him. Yet, it’s that very passion in God’s justice that also leaves room for mercy. Unlike Mobray, God has room for mercy in his execution of justice, and is willing to take his wrath on himself in order for us to be forgiven.

The Verdict: The Hateful Eight is not his best work, yet is still classic Tarantino: if you want to see this, aim to do so in 70mm. This is ridiculously violent – you have been warned. Perhaps Tarantino should try his hand at directing a rom-com. That would really shock. 3.5/5

The Hateful Eight is screening now in cinemas everywhere.

For more film reviews from a Christian perspective, connect with Reel Gospel on Facebook and Twitter.

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