Remember when John Travolta got killed in “Pulp Fiction” and your inner voice protested, “He can’t die yet; it’s too early in the movie?” Well, something similar happens in “The Hateful Eight,” more than once in fact. When writer/director Quentin Tarantino flips back the clock to give you additional information concerning a previously enacted scene, you might think Tarantino is back in his golden saddle. Or you might feel he is just cannibalizing himself because he hasn’t any new ideas. Whatever you think, you are probably just a little bit of wrong and a little bit of right, and it probably doesn’t matter anyway. “The Hateful Eight” is the floundering director’s best picture since “Jackie Brown,” but that doesn’t mean I like it. I did, however, watch it twice and wasn’t for a second bored.
The first chapter, with its empty, snow white vistas, put me immediately in mind of “The Great Silence,” but Tarantino is no Corbucci, and none of his bounty hunters are mute. Quite to the contrary, most of them, like their creator, have big mouths. And it is precisely those big mouths that bloat what might have been a tense hour-long Western serial on television in the seventies into a secular passion play that bumps along for nearly three hours. It is also those big mouths and their ridiculous drivel that fill those three hours with such unlikely entertainment.
Tarantino is one of those guys who, in a sane world, would never be allowed near a movie set. His writing and directing is so bad that if he tried to be good, he would be hopelessly mediocre. So he lets himself go wild, stealing every idea he can and screwing them up so badly it is as if reality itself gets twisted in the wind. All this crap comes swirling out of him like a nude astronaut with diarrhea in zero gravity. He puts on quite a show. But it is a hateful show. I felt sick every time Kurt Russell shoved his fist into Jennifer Jason Leigh’s broken face. This is not the sort of wacky sadism as shocked the world when James Cagney polished Jean Harlow’s face with a grapefruit in William Wellman’s “The Public Enemy.” We are not watching a slick director risking a sly transgression of the censor’s rulebook, but a misanthropic pervert acting out his most obscene fantasies. If you close your eyes during such scenes you can almost see the goop dribbling from the director’s hippopotamus jaw in the style of a frame from an EC comic.
“The Hateful Eight” is a maelstrom of bad writing and even worse acting. It is the shit and puke of a pre-adolescent delinquent who thinks he is writing “The Iceman Cometh.” But I think there might be a little touch of that in all of us, which explains why we find it so god damned entertaining. Tarantino provides a kind of pornographic geography for the inner racist, the inner misogynist, the inner homophobe, that haunts the collective memory of a genocidal empire that is too deep in denial to ever repent and change its ways.