01 June 2019

A H8ful Play

I just finished writing a mystery/western short story which is set almost entirely on a stagecoach in Arizona in the early 1900s. To get a little extra inspiration, I first re-watched a movie by Quentin Tarantino called The Hateful Eight. It's nothing like my story, but some of that movie takes place on a stagecoach, and I wanted to see it again anyway.

The Hateful Eight (2015) is sometimes listed as The H8ful Eight, and one poster subtitles it "The 8th Film by Quentin Tarantino." (The first seven were, if you count only feature films and if you count the two Kill Bill installments as one movie: Reservoir DogsPulp FictionJackie BrownKill BillDeath ProofInglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained.) I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, except maybe Death Proof, and even it had its moments--but let me say, before going any further, that you might not agree with me about the quality of these movies. A lot of folks don't. What I think you might agree with me about, though, is that they're all incredibly entertaining. And if a film is entertaining enough, I have found that I can forgive almost anything else about it. (How else could I love Blazing Saddles?)

Bottom line is, The Hateful Eight is a thrill ride, a violent, outrageous, fast-moving, wonderfully-cast, beautifully-filmed movie that could easily have been a stage play instead. Some might say it IS a stage play. The plot is completely driven by dialogue, throughout, and almost the entire film is shot in one location: a way station on a stagecoach line. There are a few scenes that take place outside the station, before and during a blizzard, but those scenes mostly involve the stagecoach in which most of the characters arrive. As usual, Tarantino plays around a little with the timeline, but in a good way.

He also uses several actors that have appeared in his previous films--Sam Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell--and the rest of the cast includes longtime favorites of mine like Bruce Dern and Jennifer Jason Leigh. In case you're wondering (I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat), the Eight are:

1. The Bounty Hunter -- Samuel L. Jackson
2. The Hangman -- Kurt Russell
3. The Confederate -- Bruce Dern
4. The Sheriff -- Walton Goggins
5  The Mexican -- Demian Bichir
6. The Little Man -- Tim Roth
7. The Cow Puncher -- Michael Madsen
8. The Prisoner -- Jennifer Jason Leigh

I'll let you match the faces to the names. NOTE: If you don't recognize the name Demian Bichir, you're not alone. I think he's probably best known as Mary-Louise Parker's love interest (and the mayor of Tijuana) in the Showtime series Weeds, which I really liked. If you still don't recognize him, you're still not alone, but I assure you he does a great job in this movie. Channing Tatum is also featured in a key role, but doesn't have much in the way of lines or screen time, which probably explains why it's not The Hateful Nine.

The main thing I wanted to say is that I think I learned several things, as a writer, from watching this movie multiple times. One was that the structure is almost perfect, and involves some really explosive and unexpected plot reversals. I always admire that. Another is the fact that, as I've said, well-written dialogue can indeed be enough to completely carry a film, start to finish. Not a play; a feature film. (And this is almost a three-hour-long feature film). A lot happens and a lot of folks get shot or otherwise dispatched in the course of the story, but the action is minimal compared to the dialogue. Once again, whatever you might think of Tarantino as a director (my wife wouldn't watch one of his movies if you handcuffed her to the theater seat), the characters in this film are fantastic, and are defined almost totally by what they say to each other.

They're also hateful. But I can forgive that.


  1. John, I find Tarantino hit and miss. I love Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. After that things get more iffy. And Kill Bill just didn't do it for me at all.

  2. I agree with Paul about Tarantino. But stagecoach movies are always interesting. Trivia for the day: the original "Stagecoach" was heavily influenced by a Guy de Maupassant story, "Boule de Suif", which is well worth the read.

  3. Paul is right. Tarantino is hit and miss. THE HATEFUL 8 is a miss. SPOILER ALERT - It should be called EVERYBODY DIES.

  4. Paul -- I too think Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are the best--but I confess I like most of them,

    Eve, I love that story. And yes, there's something about stagecoach movies. Be sure to watch the last segment in the anthology movie The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. You'd enjoy it.

    O'Neil, you're right, all of 'em died . . . and I liked it anyway!

    Thanks, y'all, for the comments.

  5. John, I hope you have a mention in your story about how uncomfortable it was to travel in one of those coaches! From all I've heard, it's more proof that the word "travel" came from the word "travail."

  6. Hey Jeff -- I refer a lot to bumps and jostles and dust and a lot of sweating and arguing. I bet they WERE uncomfortable rides. As Eve said, though, stories about (or set on) stagecoaches are fun.

  7. I thought I was going it alone, John, daring to criticize Tarantino. I too find him hit and miss and, to my thinking, a sloppy storyteller in some films. (Damn, there goes the option on my last story.) In Kill Bill, I found myself fascinated not by the story, but by the cinematography… how stairs and walls moved without audience awareness.

    I seemed to be one of the tens of people who rather liked Django. Even then, although I was entertained, I was distracted by a staggering number of errors and anachronisms in the movie, especially numerous items and references from the wrong century. To my disbelief, the DVD came with a Tarantino interview in which he bragged about the historical research. You might say that was Djarring.

  8. Leigh, that IS Djarring. As I've mentioned to you, I too found a lot of mistakes in Django Unchained (some even while he was still chained), and found myself at one point actually watching for factual errors. But I do like his storytelling, as goofy as it often is. There's always a lot of action and plenty of surprises, and with almost all his films, the realization that he's not taking any of it too seriously. I never said he was a great director, but he's always interesting, and seems to be devoted to giving the audience a thrill.

    Thanks for the observations!

  9. A terrific piece, John! Hateful may be my least fav Tarantino film, but I agree with you that’s it’s a well-structured, dialogue-driven
    thrill-ride. Look forward to reading your stagecoach story!

  10. Thanks, Larry! That story is finished and sitting here waiting while I decide where to send it first.


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