The Hateful Eight Quentin
Tarantino (USA 2015) Samuel L Jackson
viewed: Tyneside Cinema Newcastle; 9 Jan 2016; ticket: £8.75
For all the boys in Raqaa
As I watched the pretitle sequence I thought this was probably going to be a terrible movie. The pretitle sequence comprised a series of chocolate box shots of snowy landscapes. (The film industry reviewers love these shots and call them ‘breathtakingly beautiful’ etc; I am never won by this sort of easily shot stuff) Tarantino’s opening shot was a big wide snowscape; followed by another wide snow shot this time with birdies, then some more snowy shots leading finally to a close shot of a tree. All these pictures accompanied by formulaic baggy electronic chord music. This series of shots said nothing to me, communicating only a meandering unfocused directorial mind. OK, it’s only the beginning of the film. But perhaps beginnings are important: as in the end so in the beginning.
This dull sequence finally resolves into the animated credit; then we see see another close up. It’s a shot of a wood carved somewhat tortured face of Christ. And I am thinking: woah! This looks like Lars von Trier territory. Tracking back from this wood carving of the crucified Christ we see the distant form of an approaching stagecoach which goes up and past the camera. This shot at least points to something: there are travellers abroad in this snowy land
Lo! We have seen the emptiness filled out with an image of religion and journey.
In retrospect (something Tarantino used to be good at) the opening had at least a coherence lacking in the remaining three hours.
Tarantino has previously used Hollywood as a frame of reference taking ownership of its images and clichés with his own scenarios comprising of a violently perverse mixture of inversion satire homage and spoof. The intensity of his filmic imagination holding together a diversity of expressive devices. The problem with Hateful 8 is that it lacks intensity. And intensity is the glue that holds Tarantino together. Lacking intensity the Hateful 8 falls apart into its constituent parts, revealing Tarantino as a director out of control of his resources and unable to understand the forces he has set into play.
One of his main resources is of course his players. In the Hateful 8 the acting can be described as a series of pantomime performances. This beanfest of camp theatricality might have expressive possibility if the parts were scripted with a greater stylistic flexibility and had the scenario and Tarantino’s direction been able to reconcile the stylised form of the acting with an intensity and pace. Filmed without flair Tarantino’s stage is crowded out with wannabe Dames and Villains, Dandini’s and Prince Charming’s. The Hateful 8 is mono dimensional and the film becomes a bad three hour panto in which all the players seem to tire of the flummery and mummery and wish it were all over. Even Samuel L Jackson cupping choc–o-no-nuts, seems to give up on the force fed scripted material which lacks substance credibility or tension. Samuel L Jacksons seems in the end a pitiful waste of a huge screen presence.
The Hateful 8 comes complete with laboured running joke about the outside door; a joke which doesn’t even have a pay off line. Couldn’t they think of one? On the evidence of the script probably not.
Tarantino’s sauce of inspiration in the Hateful Eight is no longer only Hollywood, but also Lars von Trier land. Hollywood myth is part of the setting of the film: it is Christmas. Cue Capra. There is a moment of classic Tarantino inverted Capra in the scene where a killing is accompanied by the playing of Silent Night, but otherwise for the most part it is as if Lars von Trier presides over this ‘otherland’ like a demonic magi casting ideas and notions into the forms of contemporary incubi and succubae.
Lars von Trier’s engages with cinema as an act of exorcism, calling up and taking on his own and by extension our demons.
The problem is that Tarantino doesn’t seem to understand von Trier at any level deeper than visual affect. As if in homage to Bergman, you just stick a chess board on set and think that does it. The Hateful 8 seems to replicate von Trier’s sadistic relationships with women. Although von Trier’s tough on-set relationships with his female leads is well documented, his films’ messages often place the female lead at the centre of complex social relations, using the vulnerability of the female to point up the corruption in society. The hanging of Bjork’s Selma represents a sort of uncompromising moral victory for her. Tarantino’s hanging of Daisy Domergue is simply another desperate gratuitous step in winding up a bankrupt script with a series of pointless excesses.
Tarantino’s excess is guided by the same compass as modern warfare: the imperative is to get to the end with everyone dead. Death is power. The Hateful 8 is is driven by a script which will be enjoyed by the boys in Raqqa, who will download the movie with rapture and joy that there is an American who also shows the way. Well I guess Guantanamo and Abu Graib are now part of the circuitry that in which movies and reality amplify one another.
Tarantino used to be a dab hand at script writing. The Hateful 8’s script is terrible. The words Tarantino puts into his players mouths (I did think some may have been written by Jackson who has made so many films with Tarantino that he must know what’s expected) are leaden repetitive slow paced and lacking incision. The words demand an arch delivery that calls up a faux theatricality of delivery. The dialogue in Von Trier’s Dogville had some of the same qualities as that of the Hateful 8 but he demanded of his actors a studied intensified delivery. Dogville was underpinned by Trier’s vision of the social and moral bankruptcy of America and its race relations. Von Trier’s scripting was crafted so that these concerns gradually surfaced through the movie, to finally take on a moral primacy. Tarantino’s script is crude, exploits the racial, black and white tensions to try, unsuccessfully to energise the deadness of the material.
In structuring the Hateful 8, Tarantino is only a poor imitation of what was a masterful element of his films. Where successful he edits his films as broken temporal sequences that shift time back and forth in the time line of the movie creating both inventive tension and dramatic surprise. The Hateful Eight breaks up the temporal sequence in a heavy handed clumsy manner by showing us the start of the story as the penultimate sequence. It adds nothing to the film and the only tension it creates is in the dismay of the audience who realise they are going to have to sit through another 20 minutes whilst Tarantino tells us what we already know.
This is Tarantino’s ninth movie, I think. He says he is only going to make 10 films. On the basis of this 9 is enough. He’s run out of road.
Adrin Neatrour email@example.com