by Sean Carney
Gabe Bergmoser loves the theme of legacy. He loves it. Tarantino doesn’t love the theme, he thinks he is the theme. For years now we’ve had to listen to him state that he’ll retire from making movies with his tenth film. Only ten. No more. This eye on the future is crippling his ability to live in the now and concentrate on telling a good story. I take umbrage with a writer who is so consumed with their legacy. A legacy is something that matters at the end. When you’re gone. It might sound harsh, Quentin, but it’s something that’s kind of out of your hands. Your legacy will be the opinions formed by people about your body of work long after you are gone, and right now your films feel so hard like you’re trying to make sure we know you are important.
I came to The Hateful Eight party late. Just last week, in fact. I didn’t miss much, did I? I’ve always loved the films of Quentin Tarantino. I was one of those grubs who showed up at film school, dripping with enthusiasm over what an auteur Tarantino was and about how I was going to tell cool stories just like him. Words like badass, ultra-violence, and snappy character banter come to mind. But I’m not alone there, right? Any of us who ever watched a Tarantino film as a teenager inevitably became obsessed with trying to emulate his style. Because that’s how you learn to develop your own style as writer. You copy, paste, steal, riff, and flat out rip off your heroes. Faking it until you make it, or some shit like that. But there comes a time when you - hopefully - evolve from imitation and begin to write in your own style. But after watching The Hateful Eight the thought that entered my head - apart from weariness at the empty tale I just watched - was what exactly has happened to the unique style of the man himself. Has he finally faded in this, his eighth cinematic outing? Or have my own tastes changed to the unimaginable point where I just don’t get a kick out of his work anymore.
I won't pretend to be an absolute Tarantino purest. I recognise Pulp Fiction for the classic film it is, but I don’t have any great attachment to it. I’m far more enamoured with Inglorious Basterds (his best, I believe), Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, and my personal favourite - however unpopular it may be - Jackie Brown. Jackie Brown was the kind of early-days, free-from-all-responsibility story from a gifted writer which I just don’t think he’s capable of making anymore. And though we’re only a few years removed from the absolute triumph that was Inglorious Basterds, I personally think that Tarantino has become so lost inside the asshole of his own enormous ego and the importance he places on his cinematic legacy that it is to the detriment of telling a good story.
I think more than anything I’m just frustrated by The Hateful Eight. When the script leaked a couple of years ago I did hear rumblings that it wasn’t the best. I also heard changes were made before the film was made. I watched it, and apart from thinking ‘gee whiz it sure would have sucked to be a black man, or a woman back then’ it felt thematically empty. It felt like Tarantino thinking that a bit of a closed-room whodunnit mystery would be the ideal scenario for his brand of character banter. The only problem was he forgot to litter this story with characters I actually gave a shit about. On top of that, the only two characters worthy of investing in (Sam Jackson and Walton Goggins) had just about all of their characterisation spelled out within the first thirty minutes.
Tarantino has always being cool. Just, you know, not when he’s actually talking. And speaking of talking… there’s my biggest gripe in the film - other than lack of meaning - Tarantino drops in twice for a neat voiceover. How cute. No, nope, nup. It’s fucking shit. It’s out of place. It’s extremely distracting , and it reeks of an indulgent director piecing his film together in the cutting room and suddenly doubting the audiences ability to put together what is happening. Either that or he just really wanted to be involved. You’re better than that, Quentin.
The film is violent. As expected. But whereas in the past I would fist pump at Tarantino’s over the top zeal, this time I just groaned and was even a little disgusted to watch characters vomiting blood in the faces of others. I mean who needs that in their life? It’s hard work to share in the excitement and achievement of Sam Jackson and Goggins’ teaming up to slowly and laboriously hang Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character. And as the film pretty much ends on that moment, it’s really hard to walk away from it feeling great about story, characters, yourself, or life in general… thanks, Tarantino?
As frustrating as the film is, there is a moment right at the end which could have made it all bearable for me, but the opportunity was sadly missed. Goggins reads aloud the fake letter that President Lincoln had written to Jackson. There is a sentence along the lines of the importance of all men working together, hand in hand, for the future. The two characters were right there next to each other, just reach out and take each others hand and this overly sentimental, weak-hearted, son of a bitch would have at least had a small smile while the credits rolled.
Quentin Tarantino has always said that first and foremost he makes movies for himself, and if he loves them, his loyal audience will love them too. Right now, at this moment, I’m no longer among them.