"The Hateful Eight" is bold work by an artist pushing himself to the creative edge as he devises a Rubik's Cube of contradictions for his audience.
I'm not supposed to know this yet.
That I have an opinion about an unmade movie is because of the leak of a script that angered its writer-director enough to file a lawsuit and pledge to shelve the project.
But it would be a crime if Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" became a victim of the Internet's fondness for disseminating all things illicit from sex tapes to now, apparently, scripts.
"Hateful's" prospects took an unexpected turn as January was winding its boring self down. Rumors that a new Tarantino script was circulating had injected a little excitement into the entertainment conversation. Then, in the millisecond it takes to hit a send button, "The Hateful Eight" went from rumor to reality — famously, or infamously, leaked in toto online for all the wired world to see.
It appears chain of custody as well as exposure issues upset Tarantino. As he would later say, only six people had copies, or at least authorized ones. A few websites quietly posted the script. But when Gawker's entertainment blog, Defamer, posted a noisy link to the document, it ignited a firestorm of recriminations and the shelf threat.
The debate over the leak and whom the irresponsible parties might include quickly got tedious in the way these things do when lawyers start writing the language. Thankfully, "The Hateful Eight" is most certainly not the product of a legal mind. A brilliant one to be sure, but one unchained and free to run amok, not bound by the rule of law.
When someone passed me all 146 pages of "The Hateful Eight," from title page to final fade, I felt that jittery adrenaline rush that comes from glimpsing something you're not supposed to — like still-hidden Christmas presents, stars without makeup, porn. But I read and couldn't bear the idea that the screenplay might fade from sight unrealized.
The script has echoes of Tarantino past but also hints of Tarantino's future. It should not be exiled to a shelf for unproduced scripts.
Whether "The Hateful Eight" would add a third Oscar to Tarantino's other shelf — the one weighted down by awards for his work — is moot. But without giving too much away, including a link, I do hope the filmmaker relents for any number of reasons.
To begin with, Tarantino is a writer of significance in Hollywood whose work should not be tossed lightly. His films are known for a sense of invention as well as irreverent, reverent homages (see "Pulp Fiction," "Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2"), his love of provocation ("Django Unchained," "Inglorious Basterds") and his penchant for blood baths (pretty much everything in his oeuvre starting with his breakout, "Reservoir Dogs," in 1992).
The filmmaker's second Oscar came only last year, awarded for his original screenplay of "Django Unchained," a scathing slavery revenge comedy set in the Antebellum South. In 2010, he was nominated for writing the Nazi-skewering "Inglorious Basterds." The criminally delicious "Pulp Fiction" won the original screenplay prize for him in 1995, that Oscar shared with Roger Avary.
I certainly understand Tarantino's anger at the exposure; after all, a first draft of a screenplay is only the map at beginning of a long journey. Still, poring over the purloined pages gives a real feel for the person behind the tale — the voice distinctive, passionate, magnetic, confident. The words vibrate with such energy you can imagine Tarantino striding around the room describing the action.
Reading "The Hateful Eight" "pre"-production is a different experience for another reason. There are no indelible images already seared in my brain, only Tarantino's words juicing the imagination. So very unlike reading "Inglorious Basterds," for example, after Christolph Waltz picked up a supporting actor Oscar for making the notorious Nazi Col. Hans Landa so unforgettable, so unforgivable.
Hitting the scene when Landa visits a French farmer he is certain is hiding a Jewish family even now raises goose bumps. The page comes alive with a distinct visual and visceral power. I see the farmer trying to keep his face free of emotion. I see Waltz across the table, hear the convivial conversation of a monster.
While "The Hateful Eight" exists in a hazier place, it is no less captivating, and there is even a spot I can imagine Waltz taking. Tarantino's cheek and charm are in the telling from the opening lines: "A breathtaking 70MM filmed (as is the whole movie) snow-covered mountain range. A staggering opening vista, set to appropriately nerve jangling music."
The story is not a literal follow-up to "Django Unchained" in any sense, but it does feel as if the filmmaker had other thoughts about this country, those times, classic Western movies and the lingering issue of race. Or maybe he just really likes the costuming options — the script is filled with rich descriptions and there is a hat on nearly every head, "cool brown cow puncher hat" one of my favorites.
"Hateful" takes place in the years after the Civil War somewhere along the stagecoach route to Red Rock, Wyo. It involves a blizzard and a bounty hunter who, like Django, is African American. Whether he was slave or free is unknown, what we learn is that he is, or was, a U.S. Cavalry officer, wearing his military coat against the cold and "a supercool non regulation cowboy hat he picked up sometime after the war."
Unlike most of Tarantino's work, "Hateful" exists in an almost completely closed universe. It does not range across place or time. The life-and-death struggle — because one thing you can count on from the filmmaker is that survival will be on the line and fate will play a heavy hand — unfolds in one tiny stagecoach stop over roughly 24 hours. The place, fittingly enough, is called Minnie's Haberdashery.
This is a black dramatic comedy of coincidences, consequences, passing acquaintances, bad choices and bad people. There are, as you might guess, eight key players, hateful to varying degrees and in varying ways.
In some sense, "Hateful" is classic Tarantino — dialogue that is bitingly clever, pithy and working on so many levels that pondering the implications becomes part of its pleasure. And you know there will be blood. But what strikes is Tarantino the writer's audacious challenge to Tarantino the director.
It would demand a certain sleight of hand to ensure the close quarters don't fence the film in. How Tarantino might pull it off remains an open question. But keeping the action confined has the effect, at least on the page, of heightening the tension. The air seems to get stuffier as the scenes go by, the mood more uncomfortable as the mysteries, betrayals and bluffs unwind.
On the final drafts of his produced scripts, at least on a few I've seen, there is the ordinary typed title page and then what I think of as the one that officially christens the film as his.
It is hand-printed by the writer, in big, unruly letters and reads: "DJANGO UNCHAINED" written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; "INGLORIOUS BASTERDS" written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
For now, the scrawl marks the chapters in "The Hateful Eight" starting with: "Chapter One — Last stage to Red Rock."
I only hope there will be a final draft, that it will carry that signature page anchored by the words "written & directed by," and that "The Hateful Eight" will become a film. Shot by Tarantino. In "breathtaking 70MM."