Auteur Theory is a fickle master. At its best, helps develop stylistic and thematic points of analysis for a body of work. At its worst, it marginalizes and ignores that unlike many artistic mediums, film is collaborative and those collaborations often inform and enhance the work that it’s hard to imagine the work being as good without certain contributions.
For instance, the absence of Sally Menke as Quentin Tarantino’s editor is felt throughout The Hateful Eight. The film tries some of the structural nonlinearity and multiple perspectives of something like Pulp Fiction, but lacks the stylistic flourishes of editing to make it come across as seamless. It even gets to the point that moments that could have been told through strong editing instead are conveyed through the odd late inclusion of narration.
Tarantino also owes a lot to the performances in The Hateful Eight. It would be hard to imagine the film without the return of many familiar faces to Tarantino’s ensemble. Samuel L. Jackson gives the standout performance, but Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Kurt Russell all return to give great performances. For a film as dialogue heavy as this one, Tarantino needs a cast that can pull off these lines and the ensemble does help the material.
And while Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue shines here, it’s a bit of a two-edged sword. Tarantino is so in love with his writing that certain scenes go on and on to the point of being too much. Some character monologues are too much and certain scenes exist more for the verbal wordplay than to advance the story. Perhaps it’s missing the point for criticizing Tarantino for having indulgent dialogue, but this film feels like some of his most meandering and least punchy.
The story feels drawn out far too long and leaves certain elements unmentioned until far later in the film just for the sake of trying to have a revelation or hook to keep a moment interesting when there isn’t a good reason to not be upfront with the information. It takes far too long for the conflict to ratchet up a notch and the central conceit of two groups of strangers stuck in a snowstorm gives way to something more engaging.
In contrast to something like Inglourious Basterds where each moment has a clear set of stakes and an obvious tension, so many moments here go on and on without any clear set of stakes. Once things do ratchet up, the whole film feels like a downward spiral into spectacular violence for its own sake with no true interest in any of the characters or their fates.
One last problematic element is the Jennifer Jason Leigh character. Quentin Tarantino often has issues depicting women in his films and this one feels like his most problematic. While she doesn’t get into some of the male voyeurism of his other films, she is constantly abused and misused. As the only female character, her role is simply to be subjected to the worst men can do to her and after a while it becomes too much to bear.
The Hateful Eight is problematic and messy, and, at times, spiteful. There’s no denying the glossy style of it all, but this many films in Tarantino’s penchant to casually use the n-word, brutal violence against women, and self-indulgent writing is getting old. He’d likely retort that this is all just a movie, but that may not be enough anymore. Even ignoring the problematic elements, The Hateful Eight fails to live up to most of Tarantino’s previous works.
© James Blake Ewing 2019