Last night’s reading of an early draft of Quentin Tarantino‘s Hateful Eight script was partly a gas and partly a downer. Was it worth the $200 bucks I paid to attend? Yeah, I think so. It was quite the novel theatrical event given the loose experimental vibe and the amusing spectacle of watching several top-dog actors having fun with a vulgar, rambunctious script. The “Tarantino superstars” (including Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Amber Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins and James Remar) had a good time and did themselves proud. And yes, Tarantino made it clear (as others have noted) that he’s currently revising the script and is therefore almost certainly interested in making a film version. He also stated that the finale performed last night is being scrapped and will never be heard from again.
But pretty much every account of last night’s performance has failed to say whether The Hateful Eight sounded good enough to be a decent movie. Let me state very clearly and without a shred of a doubt that it didn’t. It’s a fairly minor and almost dismissable thing — a colorful but basically mediocre Tarantino gabfest that mostly happens on a single interior set (i.e., Minnie’s Haberdashery, located somewhere near the Wyoming town of Red Rock during a fierce blizzard) and is basically about a gatherin’ of several tough, mangy hombres sitting around talkin’ and yappin’ and talkin’ and yappin’. And then, just to break up the monotony, doing a little more talkin’ and yappin’. Along with a little shootin’ and poison-coffee drinkin’ and brutally punchin’ out a female prisoner and a few dozen uses of the word “nigger” (par for the QT course) and swearin’ and fellatin’ and whatever else.
The Hateful Eight, in short, is another lazy, occasionally funny, comfort-zone Tarantino wank that’s all about entertaining fans of his grindhouse sensibility. It’s another attitude-and-swagger show. “This isn’t a drama set in the Old West,” Tarantino is once again saying to his audience, “but a ‘Quentin Tarantino Western’ that comes from deep inside my anal cavity, and you know you guys like it this way! I mean, this is what I basically do. I sit down and pull stuff out of my ass and wank myself off and throw it all into a script and then the QT superstars agree to perform it and you guys lap it up. Which is what I’ve basically been doing since I ran out of gas after Jackie Brown.”
The script is fairly flat and contrived and, apart from the colorful performances, uninvolving and vulgar. And boringly nihilistic. The final act is especially pedestrian and lacking in dramatic skill. You can’t suddenly drop brand-new chunks of fundamental motivation and identity in Act Three. The basic stuff has to be revealed during Act One and maybe Act Two. Act Three is solely for twists and revelations and turn-arounds.
Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson wrote that The Hateful Eight is “Tarantino’s claustrophobic homage to The Petrified Forest or Key Largo, where a group of strangers trapped in a contained space need to figure out who the others are in order to survive.”
Okay, maybe, but I don’t think the inspiration is Key Largo or The Petrified Forest as much as Tarantino’s own Reservoir Dogs. I think Eight is basically Dogs with a little bit of post-Civil War Django negro revenge thrown in (particularly when Jackson gets to taunt an old Confederate general, played by Dern, with a story about how Dern’s late, dearly beloved son orally pleasured him) …but not too much because Tarantino has already done that.
Reservoir Dogs had more interesting flashbacks and better riffs from a greater array of colorful characters, but it was basically a piece about a bunch of desperate criminals hanging out inside a warehouse while trying to figure out who told the cops in advance about their just-completed jewelry-store heist. It was a lot of tough wiseass talk with occasional lively flashbacks and a very tasty breakfast scene and a torture sequence in which Michael Madsen sliced off a cop’s ear. And then it ended with everyone dead on the floor and/or killed by the cops. The Hateful Eight is basically the same idea except the big mystery isn’t about who the rat is but who poisoned the coffee.
Tarantino looked really bulky last night. He’s about twice the size he was back in the Pulp Fiction days. Do you think the Tarantino superstars are going to say anything to him about this? Of course not. Tasks like this always fall upon me. For the sake of his own health he needs to cut down on the drinking or the chili cheese fries or whatever he’s doing that’s not healthy. I mean it.
The other players were James Parks, Denis Menochet, Dana Gourrier and Zoe Bell.
“We’ve been rehearsing for the last three days,” Tarantino told the crowd before it began. “We’re okay, we’re not bad,” he said. I love it when he stopped the reading to give special directions to this or that actor, or when he chastised the cast for not following the script closely enough. And I loved his zesty readings of the scene descriptions. He really loves being the ringmmaster.