Tarantino’s back with more blood, more swearing, more scene-chewing opportunities for his favorite Hollywood performers plus a few new ones, and yet another homage to his favorite kinds of films and film making techniques. But is The Hateful Eight, his eighth film as both writer and director, up to the standards he has established for his own work with the critical and commercial success of the Kill Bill films, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained?
No, but it comes pretty close, and by the end of its 3 hour and 2 minute running time, it does give audiences a great deal of what they come to theaters to see in a Quentin Tarantino film. If you’re a fan, you should come away happy.
Set a few years after the end of the American Civil War, the film follows the meeting of the titular “Hateful Eight” as they find themselves snowed in at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a rest stop/trading post in the frigid mountains of Wyoming on the way to the town of Red Rock. Each of them has their own reasons for being there. Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), known as “The Hangman” in that part of the country, intends to claim the large bounty on the prisoner literally chained to his wrist, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by delivering her to Red Rock’s sheriff. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), another bounty hunter who still wears the uniform and livery of the Union Calvary he served during the “War of Northern Aggression”, has his own charges he intends to claim bounties for in Red Rock, only his are already dead, and thus much easier to manage transporting. On the way to Minnie’s, John Ruth, Daisy, and the Major come upon Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), a troublemaker from down south who claims to be en route to Red Rock to take over as the town’s new Sheriff. The cheerful and loquacious Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) meets them once the four reach Minnie’s, and introduces himself as Red Rock’s hangman, while “cowpuncher” Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) chooses to keep his reasons for being there to himself. The eldest of the “eight”, Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a retired Confederate General, sits by the large fireplace at the Haberdashery and rebuffs most efforts at conversation. And finally, there’s Bob (Demian Bishir), currently looking after Minnie’s while she’s off visiting family.
This “colorful” group, trapped by a blizzard at Minnie’s and forced to deal with and get to know one another over the course of days until they can continue on their way to Red Rock, soon find themselves at each other’s throats as reputations and past histories are revealed, old scores in need of settling come to the fore, and well-laid plans by those with hidden agendas slowly and deliberately play themselves out. Not everyone who arrived at Minnie’s during that blizzard will leave alive once the storm is gone, and once the bloody ball gets rolling, the possibility that none of them, in fact, will ever make it to Red Rock grows with each passing minute.
From Tarantino’s choice to film in “glorious Ultra Panavision 70”, utilizing anamorphic camera lenses of a design not used in Hollywood films in almost 40 years, to the film being preceded by an overture composed by iconic spaghetti western score composer Ennio Morricone (who also composed the score for the entire film), to its lengthy running time necessitating an intermission at around the 90 minute mark, The Hateful Eight is top to bottom a testament to the growing eccentricity of its director. A man of immense talent, vision, and capacity for creative use of profanity and carnage in cinema, Tarantino as the years pass seems more and more inclined to make films with only himself and like-minded individuals as the target audience, with little to no heed to the fact that the casual movie goer doesn’t care a whit for technical details such as what kind of camera lenses were used to make the film, or what combination of films and genres’ ideas and themes were used to synthesize whatever he creates.
Luckily, what he creates for the most part is still enjoyable even without a film degree and exhaustive knowledge of all the films and TV Tarantino’s seen in his life, thanks to his ear for memorable and impactful dialogue, the caliber of performers he’s able to recruit time and again, and all that blood and violence, which, let’s face it, people look forward to seeing in his movies. The Hateful Eight is certainly no exception in regards to those qualities. Yes, the somewhat stiff, exposition-laden dialogue of the film’s early chapters, as well as the outlandish characterizations of some of the principals, takes some getting used to, but in addition to serving the purpose of seeding information that will be important later in the film, that style of writing was a feature of the films Tarantino seeks to emulate and honor with his work here. For the genre he’s working in, it’s appropriate, if a bit hard on the ear.
And yes, when it comes to the choice of using the Ultra Panavision 70 lenses to capture both the sight and spectacle of the snow-capped mountains and frozen landscape through which the characters travel to get to Minnie’s, or conversely to deliver the right sense of claustrophobia once all those characters are contained within that very small space with tension mounting and the threat of violence growing with every word spoken, the man ain’t wrong. The film at all times looks absolutely gorgeous, the effect of the widescreen format very reminiscent of the grand cinematic adventures shot in the 60’s using the very same equipment, films like Ben-Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Battle of the Bulge.
As for the performers themselves in The Hateful Eight, they deliver exactly what you’d expect them to. Each character is given a moment of vulnerability as well as a moment to show just how ornery they really are, and the actors make the most of those opportunities, with some performances standing out more than others. If you’re a fan of Tombstone, then you’ll absolutely love what Kurt Russell delivers here, and similarly, if you’re fan of Walter Goggins’ work on FX’s “Justified” series, his every minute of over-the-top scene chewing will be a delight. Tim Roth, on the other hand, while no stranger to Tarantino fare himself, looks and feels like he’s standing in for Christoph Waltz, who won Oscars playing characters similar to Roth’s Oswaldo Mobray in both Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. As for Samuel L. Jackson, well, he ALWAYS gets to have fun when working with Tarantino, and that fun translates into bringing to life characters you either love or love to hate. Here, it’s most likely the former, though he brings some serious nastiness in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, one that more or less kicks off the film’s considerable mayhem.
But the real standout performer in The Hateful Eight is Jennifer Jason Leigh. Always a fearless performer throughout the length of her acclaimed career, Leigh brings just as much if not more grit and toughness to her turn as Daisy Domergue as her fellow castmates do to their roles. She’s the newcomer to Tarantino films here, along with Demian Bishir, and that certainly adds to her on-screen allure, as unlike Jackson or Russell, who have delivered Tarantino’s dialogue before, you don’t know going in just how all that colorful language is going to sound coming from the newbie. Without a doubt, Leigh rewards your attention with a performance that’s at different times disgusting, terrifying, and hilarious in the most vicious manner imaginable. She simply owns it, and in doing so makes such a lasting impression that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role once you’ve seen it.
So with all that said, is The Hateful Eight worth that considerable time investment come Christmas Day when it opens in select theaters across the country, or on December 31st when it opens everywhere? Yes, especially if you’re a fan of the director and/or the stars here, and if you’re a fan of westerns. Again, it isn’t AS good a film as Tarantino’s last two, particularly in terms of pacing and the inescapable sense that you’ve seen him do everything he does here in earlier films, but it’s still pretty darned good. If you do go see it, try to see it on the big screen at one of the select locations during its initial run, as those theaters actually have the equipment to show the film in its intended format, rather than digitally. After all, if you’re giving up that much time to see it, you might as well see it in all its glory.
The Hateful Eight
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walter Coggins, Demian Bechir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, and Channing Tatum. Directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Running Time: 182 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.