“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.
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).
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.
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.
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.