|'As excellent as The Hateful Eight regularly is - and taken entirely on its own merits, it really is an excellent film - it doesn't quite measure up to the masterpieces of Tarantino's past'.|
Following Quentin Tarantino's strong suggestion that his tenth film may well be his last as director, every new release from the iconic filmmaker feels more and more like a cinematic event. With The Hateful Eight, billed as the eighth film from Tarantino (presumably counting the two volumes of Kill Bill as a single film), that sense is heightened further still when taking into account the issues that surrounded its early production. When an early draft of the script leaked onto the internet after Tarantino had passed copies to only a handful of potential cast members, so wounded did the director feel that he initially cancelled production of the film entirely.
Whilst there are plenty of reasons to be thankful that Tarantino eventually changed his mind, there's a lingering sense that the film's troubled germination has filtered through in some way to the final product. It's hard to put a finger on precisely what is amiss, but The Hateful Eight never feels like the director delivering his absolute best. In one sense, Tarantino has become the victim of his own success; both Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds before that feel like a step up by the director from an already incredibly high bar in terms of both cinematic accomplishment and epic storytelling. As excellent as The Hateful Eight regularly is - and taken entirely on its own merits, it really is an excellent film - it doesn't quite measure up to the masterpieces of Tarantino's past.
Once again, Tarantino offers a weighty running time that pushes the three hour mark (exceeding it if you're watching the "roadshow" version of the film), but here feels less confident of exactly how to use it. The opening two chapters are unhurriedly paced, offering plenty of opportunities for exchanges between four of the eponymous octet but little else. Whilst the dialogue retains the caricatured period authenticity of Tarantino's recent work, you'll find yourself waiting for longer than you're accustomed to between moments of true dynamism within the script.
When we get to Minnie's Haberdashery, the setting in which the remaining four chapters unfold, both the pace and the punchy lines pick up, but a new issue begins to reveal itself. Tarantino has cited Reservoir Dogs as a direct influence on his crafting of The Hateful Eight, and reverberations from his debut can undoubtedly be felt throughout. But Tarantino has already made a period version of Reservoir Dogs' set-up within the "La Louisianne" Tavern scene in Inglourious Basterds, concentrating the whodunit narrative brilliantly to under half an hour. Doing the same again, only moving from 1940s Europe to post-Civil War America and giving himself almost three hours to luxuriate in, feels like the writer and director being uncharacteristically easy on himself. There's a sense throughout The Hateful Eight that, for perhaps the first time in his career, Tarantino never pushes himself to give the audience at least one element that's entirely new.
For a film that's incredibly entertaining, expertly crafted and crammed with excellent performances - amongst the comprehensively strong cast, Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren is perhaps most memorable, never putting a foot wrong delivering a 19th Century quasi-Jules Winnfield - this review perhaps seems remarkably negative. Again, that's largely down to the uncannily high cinematic benchmark Tarantino has set in the past. That The Hateful Eight looks magnificent from the first shot to the last, and that it sounds perhaps more classically cinematic than any other Tarantino film thanks to Ennio Morricone's flawless original score, are qualities that almost feel as though they go without saying. Perhaps they shouldn't. But despite The Hateful Eight's many superb attributes, and despite being a long-time fan of Tarantino and his work, I found myself waiting for the film to provide something - a scene, a speech, a moment - to genuinely blow me away; for the first time since Death Proof, that moment never came.