The incremental maturation of Quentin Tarantino as a filmmaker (more on that later) has perhaps come half circle in his western whodunit film The Hateful Eight, set against the wintry backdrop of the Wyoming frontier. The rich dialogue employed by Tarantino is brilliant, while the non-linear timeline provides a master stroke to the movie. One would simply be hard-pressed to find another filmmaker with the penchant for blending the triumvirate thematic conceits of over-the-top violence, effective cinematography, and profound dialogue, into a resplendent cinematic jewel. If we were to set aside for the moment the incessant “N-bombs” that were dropped throughout the film, this is topnotch filmmaking. With this in mind, this review is divided into two constituent parts. In the first, we celebrate Quentin Tarantino’s artistic genius and substantive cinematic oeuvres. In the second, we examine the filmmaker’s arrogance through the prism of racial insensitivity, ultimately leaving the reader with the seminal decision on whether to patronize or skip the movie.
In the opening scene of the movie, a stagecoach driven by O.B. (James Parks) hurtles through the Wyoming expanse with its passengers, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his recalcitrant prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), before being waylaid by Civil War combatants Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). By all accounts, Marquis Warren is a skilled bounty hunter as well, tested and hardened by the strife of civil war. Mannix, for his part, boasts to anyone who will listen that he is the future sheriff of the town of Red Rock. Determined to outrun the blizzard that gives chase, the four passengers and driver speed toward the town of Red Rock where Daisy is to be hanged for the crime of murder. Before reaching their final destination, the five of them take up refuge at the mountaintop stagecoach stopover Minnie’s Haberdashery. This is the point in the movie where Tarantino exercises his mastery over the aforementioned thematic elements, namely, over-the-top violence and profound dialogue.
One of my all-time favorite movies is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starring Sidney Poitier because a large segment of the movie takes place inside a single structure; where superb dialogue is the primary conceit used to advance the story line. The Hateful Eight is on a par with this film, where most of the action takes place within a single room. There are few writer-directors who can captivate an audience like Tarantino does in this film; and it is his gift of dialogue that invites us in, makes us recline in our seats in sheer delight, and ultimately beckons us to lean forward with anticipation for what happens next. The director’s use of exquisite dialogue to ratchet up the tension and suspense is a unique convention and one that places Tarantino into a category all to himself.
Inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, we are introduced to four other seedy characters with questionable motivations. Bob (Demian Bichir) is a Mexican who claims to be running the haberdashery in Minnie’s absence; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), an Englishman who claims to be the new hangman of Red Rock; former Confederate general Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern); and the stoic cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). As the ensemble of nine guests settles in for the night, alliances will be tested and others forged, along with the unraveling of their true identities and concealed intentions. The tension between our protagonists is palpable, building toward an explosive crescendo of violence. Once the cartridges have been spent, blood has been splattered (as only Tarantino can do it), and the gore factor in full effect, who will be left standing?
At first blush, this film may appear to be a thematic retread of some of Tarantino’s previous work. It absolutely is not; and it would be fool hearted to assign this moniker to it. This isn’t Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield moralizing in Pulp Fiction or just about any line Christoph Waltz delivers in a Tarantino film. The dialogue in those movies simply pales in comparison to what we’re treated to in The Hateful Eight. The exquisite dialogue is self-sustaining and pervasive throughout this movie. The case cannot be made for his previous work. This film also marks the evolution of a man as a pure filmmaker and the devolution of the same man as a socially irresponsible filmmaker (yes, this is the concept of cognitive dissonance). Having espoused this, we have reached the point in the review where effusive praise for Quentin Tarantino’s work is supplanted by well-deserved criticism for his callous use of the word “nigger.” In an alternate universe, this film could be playing under the title of The Distasteful Eight.
From my perspective, this film has been tarnished by Tarantino’s gratuitous and liberal use of the “N-word,” distracting moviegoers from an otherwise cinematic masterpiece. Tarantino has become a cogent and powerful force in Hollywood. It appears that he has become too powerful. It is as Lord Acton lamented, “Power corrupts and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” We have witnessed his racial insensitivity in other films such as Reservoir Dogs and Django Unchained. By incessantly using the word nigger in his films, Tarantino has demonstrated a reckless propensity to sour the national mood (at least amongst some African Americans). When the use of the N-word no longer provides context or advances the story, its use becomes deliberate and intentional, showing blatant disregard for the human condition of African Americans.
While we are not a monolithic people, it would appear that we need to stand in solidarity until the filmmaker changes his ways, starting with you Samuel L. Jackson! Samuel L. Jackson is reportedly worth over 200 million dollars, so it’s not like he needs the money. While I’m not one to have my hands in another man’s pockets, I do believe it’s time for Samuel L. Jackson to Do the Right Thing (y’all see what I did there, right?). In fact, the onus is upon both Jackson and Tarantino to do the right thing. Tarantino’s unique and artistic approach to filmmaking will still be preserved, even without the incessant use of the N-word; he’s simply an extraordinary talent who deserves to have his work appraised without the N-word controversy enveloping it. By the way, did I mention that Samuel L. Jackson is worth over 200 million dollars? He has surpassed his N-word quotient. He should not utter the N-word in a digital format ever again.
As a moviegoer, you will need to decide what your personal “N-word quotient” is prior to viewing this movie. Here’s a very simple formula to ascertain what that number is: take the number of times you hear the N- word in the first ten minutes and divide it by…. Who am I freaking kidding? There is no formula! You will just need to balance your love for cinema against the verbal onslaught of hearing the word. Ultimately, some basic questions will need to be answered. Will Quentin Tarantino stop using the N-word in his films? Is Samuel L. Jackson going to be the first prominent African American actor to refuse a role in his movie until he does? Do moviegoers even care about the topic? These questions – and many others – will be answered in the next episode of Soap. Wipe that perplexed look from your faces, please. That’s a reference to a 1970s sitcom. What’s that? You just want me to stick to the review? Okay, fine! I am pretty sure that there are some of you out there in “Movie Review Land” scratching your heads because you don’t see what the big deal is with the whole Tarantino-N-word dynamic. You’re probably also advocating for black people to stop being so sensitive because it’s just a word. For those who believe African Americans should merely get over it and move on, I have one simple rebuttal for you Inglorious Basterds, “N-word, please!!!”
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