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Black Night, White Hell: A Look At Quentin Tarantino’s 'The Hateful Eight' Western

by Rodrigo Perez
January 31, 2014 3:48 PM
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Quentin Tarantino,

“​I do like the fact that everyone eventually posts [my scripts], gets it and reviews it on the net. I like the fact that people like my shit, and that they go out of their way to find it and read it," Quentin Tarantino recently told Deadline. And while we're not going to defend Gawker's wanton leaking of the script, we are going to look at the director’s would-be Western “The Hateful Eight” in some broad strokes.

It's fascinating to have watched Tarantino's career evolve since he broke out with "Reservoir Dogs." While never the most conventional screenwriter to begin with ("Pulp Fiction" is a sprawling, ambitious jigsaw puzzle, for one), in recent years Tarantino's screenplays have pushed the envelope further, eschewing most cinematic narrative conventions, with his movies becoming more like filmed novels that don't bother with traditional structure. While it hasn't always worked—"Django Unchained," while entertaining, in this writer’s opinion has little forward momentum and is full of superfluous tangents—it undoubtedly makes for a unique work unlike what most filmmakers are creating today. Tarantino movies are so cherished these days that they have become their own form of event movie, and so, the writer/director has seemingly earned the right to do whatever he pleases, narrative conventions be damned.

Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino

And with Harvey Weinstein backing his every move (though he has suggested the opposite lately, at least in terms of violent movies), Tarantino can continue to write sprawling and unconventional genre movies and not worry about traditional concerns about length, pace, etc. And it's a damn fine place to be if you can get there (perhaps Martin Scorsese is the only other American filmmaker who can make epics of this nature at the studio level). With all this in mind, its a shame that Tarantino is scrapping his plans to make "The Hateful Eight," a Western he wrote that recently leaked online, thanks to some careless Hollywood agents, because its his most unconventional screenplay to date.

Superficially, one can see understand why QT might shelve "The Hateful Eight," beyond his outrage; it was a first draft, and on first blush it’s extremely uncinematic—to the point that many have said it would be better served as a stageplay. But that's not giving enough credit to the nuances of this compartmentalized Tarantino script that is much smaller in scale than his audiences are used to.

So, what’s it about? First off, those thinking Tarantino was pilfering from "The Magnificent Seven," will be in for a rude awakening: the screenplay couldn't be more polar opposite. "The Hateful Eight" is a complex and layered look at race, culture and lawlessness in the hard-bitten era of the Wild West. As the title suggests, and what makes it so original, is "The Hateful Eight" has little to no main protagonists (sure , one could argue "Inglourious Basterds" superficially was much the same, but it's ultimately about Shoshanna's tale of revenge on the Nazis...mostly).

Quentin Tarantino

What's more, it has no one to root for (as the title also implies). "The Hateful Eight" centers on eight different kinds of scoundrels, bastards and low lives. Yes, some are more likeable than others, and maybe two men are the “leads,” but one could argue it's a movie with eight villains at its center who eventually collide through chance and circumstance (and some cold calculation too).

"The Hateful Eight" might be the most difficult logline of Tarantino's career to nail down, if only because it has little to do with a protagonist's personal transformation, a point of attack which discombobulates his universe, or other such writing tropes. But if you need a summary, it might go something like this: In the bitter-cold mountains of Wyoming in the post Civil War late 1880s, a bounty hunter's plan to bring a prisoner Wanted Dead Or Alive to justice coincides with, and is complicated by, various travelers en route to the same destination: a small town called Red Rock (more plot specifics can be found here).

And while that sounds a lot like "Django Unchained" on the surface, and also deals with myriad issues of race, it actually is quite a different beast. Much less sprawling and self-contained—the story essentially takes place in two confined settings: inside a stagecoach, and within a saloon-like haberdashery—one could argue "The Hateful Eight" is influenced by his favorite scenes in "Inglourious Basterds," which he has described as the best ones he's ever written.

Django Unchained, Zoe Bell

Like the opening Hans Landa interrogation scene, the French basement tavern sequence and even the dinner scene in "Django Unchained," Tarantino's latest continues the writer/director's fascination with the canny art of conversation and the tense poker game usually occurring within. (Like Christopher Walken says in “True Romance”: “Now, what we got here is a little game of show and tell. You don't wanna show me nothing but you're telling me everything”). This idea employed in several of aforementioned sequences—the bluff, the feign, the tell, and the artful deception within it all—is expounded upon on at a macro level and consumes most of the movie. While broken up into six chapters, “The Hateful Eight” is more like a protracted two act movie (though there is a quick third act too); one that takes place in and around a stagecoach and one set in small haberdashery where the characters have to take refuge from a blizzard on the way to Red Rock.

Because of these confined settings, "The Hateful Eight," at first glance appears to be fundamentally uncinematic. What would be the point of shooting in "glorious 70mm CinemaScope" when 90% of the movie is set indoors? And while Paul Thomas Anderson proved a chamber drama could be successfully shot in 70mm, "The Master" contained much more than two, largely claustrophobic, settings within its milieu. But while 70mm might be excessive (though there are a couple of “vista” scenes throughout just to break up the confined settings), the stage would ultimately be the wrong medium for “The Hateful Eight,” because all of the sly nuance of these conversations would be lost (especially if you weren't sitting up front). You would need the close-up and the medium shot: as small as it is, “The Hateful Eight” would be best served on the screen.

bruce dern, django

Who would have starred? Well, the Western focuses, for the first half at least, on two different bounty hunters who come to a truce when they meet potential rivals on the way to Red Rock. As the Wrap already revealed, one is the African American bounty hunter almost certainly written for Samuel L. Jackson, the other, a huge bullying bastard of a bounty hunter seems best suited for Michael Madsen (one of the actors first approached). Later on as the stagecoach arrives at a haberdashery to escape the blizzard on the way to Red Rock, the quintet (which includes a female prisoner, a would-be sheriff and the coach driver) meet with three strangers inside. One is an old Southern General likely best set for Bruce Dern, an English hangman (Tim Roth) and a Frenchman (which could easily be played by Christoph Waltz). There are actually a few more tiny roles, in flashback and what not, but we won’t get into them here (though there does seem to be a small role for Kiwi and Tarantino regular Zoë Bell).

Mistrust is the name of the game throughout the film, and while it only has two settings it’s definitely one of Tarantino’s most entertaining reads in a long time. Why would Tarantino scrap this movie even when “Django Unchained” and “Inglorious Basterds” both were also leaked the day they went out to agents, and were available online at least six months before the movies shot?

Well, Tarantino has called it a first draft and hadn’t planned to shoot it until a year from now (the other two films were shot in roughly six months), and while it’s better than your average first draft, the somewhat anti-climactic nature of the finale suggests Tarantino would still finesse things a bit. And while atypical, “The Hateful Eight” seems like it’s really all there for the most part. A radical reinvention or taking those two segments (the stagecoach and the haberdashery) and placing them within the context of a larger framework would be some incredibly impressive stuff. But unless you’re one of his producers or have his ear, it would be total speculation to see how he would rework it at all. Tarantino’s vowed to move on and it sounds like he has other irons in the fire, but “The Hateful Eight” is a different, challenging and bold work for Tarantino, especially in its counter-intuitive choice to be compact instead of epic. Hopefully it’s not shelved for good. Hell, hopefully he changes his mind soon.

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  • Terry Craig | April 4, 2014 1:23 AMReply

    I agree with a lot in this review. Having also read the script I gotta say it seems like Tarantino took most of his inspiration from Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence. That being said, it is nevertheless a clever psychological suspense Western with some gripping moments, and it all does feel like written for theater, but is appropriate due to the claustrophobic atmosphere it creates.

  • Wilson Zorn | April 3, 2014 12:21 AMReply

    "Why would Tarantino scrap this movie even when “Django Unchained” and “Inglorious Basterds” both were also leaked the day they went out to agents, and were available online at least six months before the movies shot?" Easy answer. Publicity stunt.

  • r | February 14, 2014 6:52 PMReply

    Read it and if that's the real script, as it seems to be, it's too much like Reservoir Dogs redone in the wild west, too little in the way of trying something new. Would be cool if he did a film that was smaller in scale or confined to a closed location compared to his last projects, but it should have a little more to differentiate it from his previous films. I mean, it would be a great film with a script like that, but it wouldn't be in the way of trying interesting new genres or scenes to do. It would be pretty much him doing what he has found out he does best, but what he therefore has done before and arguably better.

  • Wilson Zorn | April 3, 2014 12:23 AM

    Interesting: so if it's "too much like Reservoir Dogs," are you in disagreement with this article's author's claim there are no likable protagonists? At the core of Reservoir Dogs were some subset of characters we essentially liked in some ways, either for their loyalty, (intended) nobility, and/or professionalism, and there were great pains to so humanize most of the characters (other than "cut the ear off" guy) and ensure we had some kind of connection, cared what happened to them.

  • Cameron | February 13, 2014 11:48 AMReply

    John Ruth: Jeff Bridges
    Maj. Warren: Samuel Jackson
    Chris Mannix: Ben Foster
    Oswaldo: Tim Roth
    Bob: Denis Menochet
    The General: Bruce Dern
    Jody: Michael Madsen.
    Daisy: Lena Headey
    Joe Gage: Walton Goggins

  • knoxharrington | February 3, 2014 11:49 AMReply

    John Ruth: Bruce Dern
    Maj. Warren: Samuel Jackson
    Chris Mannix: Michael Madsen
    Oswaldo: Tim Roth
    Bob: Cristoph Waltz

  • spassky | February 6, 2014 11:25 AM

    Dern definitely the old general... though I did too think in the first "chapter" Ruthe was intended for Dern.

  • Alan Robert | February 2, 2014 2:19 PMReply

    The Hateful Eight is an homage to John Ford and his film Stagecoach... [spoilers redacted]

  • SteveO | February 18, 2014 12:45 AM

    Actually, this isn't likely as Tarantino has publicly stated his disdain for John Ford. He's a Howard Hawkes guy through and through.

  • mass | February 11, 2014 6:12 AM

    Hey, Alan. F u c k you with your spoilers you douchebag.

  • fds | February 1, 2014 6:50 PMReply

    [redacted spam]

  • Les grossman | February 1, 2014 5:16 PMReply

    Everybody gets inspiration from have to realise that 'Nothing is original'.every masterpiece art will be accused of plagiarism.even the great Shakespeare and Jesus aren't exceptions to this (some say that Jesus inspired his teachings from the teachings of Buddha).anyway,almost all of classic films like E.T.(satyajit ray script The Alien),Starwars(Akira kurasawa films,Flash gordon serials etc),Raiders of lost Ark (secret of the Incas),Terminator(Harlon ellison novels),Avatar(Dances of the wolves),Matrix (Ghost in the shell,a comic book),Inception (Matrix,eXistenZ).list goes on and on...if ripping off is so easy,why can't you watch a bunch of films,make a film from it and become a famous film maker?!

  • Pig Bodine | February 1, 2014 1:18 PMReply

    The entire time I was reading, I kept trying to picture who would play whom. I know this clashes a little with the general speculation, but here's the cast configuration I imagined in my mind:

    John Ruth: Michael Parks
    Maj. Warren: Samuel Jackson
    Chris Mannix: Tim Roth
    Oswaldo: Christoph Waltz (he was described as British, but I swear I heard Waltz's voice in my head whenever Oswaldo was speaking)
    Bob: Jean Dujardin
    The General: Bruce Dern
    Jody: Michael Madsen. He seemed much more natural to that part than to John Ruth. And it would open the door for, say, *Virginia Madsen* to play Daisy.

  • Andrew g | February 4, 2014 2:09 AM

    Please send me the script I cannot find it anywhere and the pirate bay link won't work for some reason. I've been looking for this for days and can't get it please help a bro out.

  • p-dub | February 1, 2014 12:16 AMReply

    I hope Tarantino never makes this script into a movie. Spoilers throughout.

    Don't get me wrong; good read, certainly not a bad script, but I don't think it's what his next film should be. It's a very small, minor piece of writing in a way and that surprised me the more and more that I read. His last couple films have gone very large, so seeing him scale back down isn't inherently a bad idea.

    The issue with scaling down is that he's scaled down into a story he's already told. A bunch of violent people, many of whom are using fake names, are locked up in one location together through the majority of the movie. They all debate who they can trust and who, if anyone, is not who they say they are. There is a big reveal at the end of the second act ("I poisoned the stew!"), which leads us into a flashback that explains who most everyone really is and what their real motivation is. When the story comes back from the flashback, everyone is finally clear on who each other is, a shootout, everyone dies, the end. Does this sound familiar to anyone who may have happened to see a little movie called Reservoir Dogs?

    I'd like to repeat that the script itself isn't bad, only upon reflecting on his entire career does it feel repetitive. Plus it will only give more ammunition to detractors who accuse him of never doing anything original ("Now he's ripping himself off! Which originally was a rip off of City of Fire!") or growing much from film to film.

    I do take issue with some of the script. As I said, it's a relatively minor piece, aimed more at being a stage play style than a grand western epic. But I have to admit I also found this element disappointing, just because of the ways Tarantino has talked about the script being a "real western" and how he wanted to utilize the skills he learned on Django. I'm not sure what great stuff he planned on staging that we haven't seen him already accomplish in multiple films already (the film basically plays like an extended version of the tavern sequence in Bastards.)

    I also, I'm sorry, have to take major issue with his use of the word *beep* throughout the script. I'm white, it doesn't offend me, it's not about that, it's about Tarantino being creatively stuck and feeling frustrated with his inability to move past things.

    I totally understand it's use in Django, even defend it in Jackie Brown and the couple times it's used in his first two films, but here it felt uselessly crude. I get that people can cite "historical accuracy" and say that that is how people would have talked to a black character back then, but that's disingenuous at the end of the day as well. Nothing else about this (or Django) takes place in the "real world." Tarantino hasn't been driving at any kind of realism in a long time. His worlds and characters are all very stylized, very author-driven. It's absolutely his choice to put the word in there as much as it is. And the fact that it's used as often as it is in sections of Django only makes me shake my head. It's not needed to make the story better or add anything to it, it's creatively redundant of him at this point, and really draws into question just how much of it over the years is him enjoying using the word. He's not Faulker, he's not Twain, he's not writing when those guys wrote, it's not as if he doesn't know what buttons he's pushing, and at this point I'm a little tired of it.

    Those are just my thoughts on the script. I could get into more details about what I thought worked and what I thought didn't.

  • r | February 14, 2014 7:15 PM

    (Spoilers to follow) I very much liked Death Proof, and in a way prefer it to many of his more lauded films, but it had going for it the fact that it was quite original, both in structure, in genre and in having almost all female characters. Tarantino also hadn't done a car chase scene before. Hateful Eight doesn't fare very well against that at this point. It doesn't have any considerably new challenges for him. Western setting has been done, with bounty hunters as leads (one of them black), the plot is very similar to Reservoir Dogs, right to the end, there aren't any action scenes, except for a few shootouts, of which one is a mexican stand-off at the end where everybody dies.

  • Andrew g | February 4, 2014 2:13 AM

    I posted this as a response to a comment above. Just adding that so no one thinks I'm just spam or something. Rawr721@gmail
    Please anyone help me out send me the script please.

    Please send me the script I cannot find it anywhere and the pirate bay link won't work for some reason. I've been looking for this for days and can't get it please help a bro out.

  • kabow! | February 1, 2014 6:54 PM

    Sounds good to me. The minor QT movies seems to be the better ones. I much prefer Death Proof to Basterds or Django.

  • emontague | January 31, 2014 8:11 PMReply

    always the agents fault isn't it....don't think so unless it was Quentin's so they could cause a lot of flack

  • Jake | January 31, 2014 6:18 PMReply

    A revenge film with borrowed tropes of older revenge films and westerns. Good thing he has never made that before.

    Tarantino should just retire now and stop making a career of ripping off other movies and calling it original.

  • Jake | February 1, 2014 12:26 PM

    Watch City on Fire and then watch Resorvoir Dogs.

    Watch Bride Wore Black or A Game of Death or Lady Snowblood (or all three) and then watch Kill Bill.

    Watch The Killers and then watch Pulp Fiction (granted it's based off a Hemingway short story, but Tarantino takes visual cues from it too)

    Watch any old car chase movie and then watch Death Proof.

    Watch Castellari's 1970's Inglorious Bastards then watch the new one

    Watch Corbucci's Django then watch the new one (seems to intentionally rip off, even uses the old theme song, but you know, original)

    You get my drift. But you can go ahead and keep mindlessly praising him and ignore any sort of criticism.

  • Jack howington | February 1, 2014 9:32 AM

    He openly borrows scenes from movies you've probably never seen or heard of! And he does make them original you moron! Maybe you should retire and die!

  • Kage | January 31, 2014 7:32 PM

    Being jelly is like drinking poison and waiting for him to die. Find another way to spend your energy.

  • Roskillde | January 31, 2014 5:51 PMReply

    You should make an article about director's whose movies are Events. I'd say Tarantino, von Trier, Lynch, PT Anderson and even Nolan. Sure people are interested in movies by Wes Anderson, Fincher, Spielberg or what not, but who are filmmakers that really make a real impact every time they make a film and whose films are always Events with big E.

  • bohmer | January 31, 2014 11:09 PM

    Lynch seems to be done with movies. Von Trier and Nolan are IMO way overrated. I'd put Scorcese on that list.

  • Benjamin | January 31, 2014 4:34 PMReply

    Spot-on assessment. I gotta say, though, I actually pictured Michael Madsen in the role of Bob the Frenchman and Christoph Waltz as John Ruth, the "bullying bastard of a bounty hunter".

  • John Kelly | January 31, 2014 10:41 PM

    Right? I thought the same thing but nope...and to be honest Bob is a small role for Waltz. I wanted him to have more screen time than what he had in the script. Overall the story was well written with very good dialogue that I enjoyed very much. Has that slow fuse fill as it gradually inches closer to the explosion.

  • Anonymouse | January 31, 2014 4:26 PMReply

    while he may still be reeling in anger over the leak, i think the screenplay is simply too good not to film. it's a wonderful first draft and can probably be tightened up some in the next draft, if QT ever gets around to it. maybe he can hand it off to another film maker, ala True Romance and From Dusk Til Dawn?

    i would also love to see it as a stage play.

  • ME | March 29, 2014 7:28 AM

    No it's a racist, gay power fantasy that only wormy bigots like you would love. Wonder if I can make a white revenge fantasy based in detriot,where I go about raping black boys who have wronged me? Wonder if jewwood will pick it up?

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