The Hateful Eight

Right, that’s the last Quentin Tarantino movie I’m ever going to see. I liked Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown but basically gave him a miss thereafter because while criminal lowlifes having quirky naturalistic conversations was a winning and novel idea for a while I soon came to feel it wasn’t sufficiently charming to overcome Tarantino’s fixation with violence and cruelty.

The quirky naturalistic conversations between tough men are still there, and I have to give Tarantino credit for how artfully they are constructed. My companion said she thought such characters – bounty hunters, hangmen, cowboys, unrepentant confederates – wouldn’t be so articulate, but I’m prepared to believe that Americans in the mid to late 19th century spoke, or tried to speak, the way Jane Austen and Charles Dickens wrote, same as their Victorian English contemporaries.

Flowery formality of speech was highly regarded at a time when conversation and public speaking were the main forms of entertainment. I think he captures it well, although I’m not sure they would have said ‘anyone got a problem with that?’ or used the phrase ‘window of opportunity’.

And there’s appropriate variety among them. Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter, for instance, talks like a backwoodsman, the way we imagine Daniel Boone would have talked.

So okay, the language of The Hateful Eight transcends cliche, but it certainly doesn’t transcend Tarantino’s aforesaid love of violence. I googled his filmography just now and came across the following quote: ‘Violence is fun’.

And therein lies the problem, I think. Whereas in a film like Twelve Years A Slave the violence is sickening, it’s presented to us to enlist our outrage at the fact that this cruelty was actually perpetrated against human beings, and it’s treated with appropriate seriousness.

In this film it’s presented as if it IS fun. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was only the tough guys doing it to one another in a cartoonish kind of way, but we also see innocent, likeable people being savagely shot and stabbed to death, and Tarantino doesn’t shrink from showing us their terrified faces and desperate begging for their lives. He obviously thinks cruelty is fun too.

It’s a very long film and yeh yeh, the pacing and the editing and the cinematography are all just right, but you just end up wondering and worrying about why such a darkly nihilistic visionary is so lionised.

There was just one other positive note. The female captive – the murderer on her way to be hanged – picks up a guitar and starts singing, of all things, Jim Jones at Botany Bay, which I’ve always thought is the best, most powerful and moving Australian convict song ever.

This review was first published on Facebook on 25.1.2016