In this time of Star Wars mania it’s easy to lose sight of what’s coming out at the theaters. Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is a salty whodunit that owes as much to Agatha Christie as it does to many Westerns before it. I’m not exactly sure The Hateful Eight can be classified as a typical western; it most certainly could be labeled as a post Civil War film. It crams hair trigger racial tensions into a neutral setting (an outpost), where a mixed group of gunslingers try and make nice during a blizzard. The Hateful Eight is full of gratuitous violence and typical Tarantino dialogue that might sway people from wanting to give the film a shot. However, missing Tarantino’s eighth film would be a huge mistake. Tarantino’s film is yet another example of his cinematic genius. One can’t deny that there is an element of familiarity in this film, whether it’s revisiting the classic western like he did in Django Unchained or exploiting the distrust amongst strangers like he did in Reservoir Dogs. Familiarity aside, The Hateful Eight delivers on the sheer moment-to-moment action that Tarantino fans have come to expect, from scorching dialogue to explosive confrontations.
The film centers on the events that take place at Minnie’s Haberdashery – a watering hole that serves as these varmints’ only shelter from an approaching storm. The film serves as a pseudo Reservoir Dogs reunion as Mr. Blonde (Micheal Madsen) and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), appear as a black-hat cowboy and a dandy british hangman, respectively. Joining them are two bounty hunters, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major. Marquis Warren (Samuel Jackson), the former is tasked with escorting and outlaw named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the gallows in Red Rock.
Underscoring Taratino’s commitment to keep it old school, the director brought back the Ultra Panavision 70mm (on certain screenings) format used on such epics as The Greatest Story Ever Told and How The West Was Won, but choose to ignore the outdoor scenery in a majority of the shots in order to achieve a more claustrophobic feel in the cabin. Still, the film open in such a way that I’ve never witnessed personally with a pre-credits placeholder and an overture card the depicts a stage coach racing from left to right in the shadows. In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino deviates from his usual move of controlling all parts of the film and he relies on Ennio Morricone to set the tone. Morricone gives an eight minute ominous synthesizer-driven mood setter that indicates that violence is just around the corner. Tarantino only enhances the mood with conjuring up a script that gives a sense of the old west. The audience truly feels that it’s every man for themselves and that the only way to interact with someone is to assume they want to kill you.
The audience will really get a kick out the sly hints that are shown in the film – from a stray jelly bean wedged between the floorboards, to the broken “whore” of a door that won’t close unless nailed shut. Just judging by all of the actors’ body language we know death lurks close by. Naturally, each character knows more than they are letting on which gives The Hateful Eight that aforementioned Agatha Christie vibe.
The suspense goes on till about the 100 minute mark when the first corpse ultimately hits the floor. The body count climbs much faster as soon as the audience have regained their seats following the intermission. In a neat twist, the director (playing the role of narrator) insinuates that during the break someone had actually poisoned the coffee at the Haberdashery. This came as no shock because everything in a Tarantino movie is done with wink and a nod.
While some might argue that The Hateful Eight is similar to other films (Delmer Daves’s 3:10 to Yuma is superficially similar and told in rapid 92 minutes), Tarantino knows how to take the story and make it epic. That is over course taking into account everything from the format, to the score , his instance on the grade theatrical viewing, and the wider-than-widescreen aspect ratio. Tarantino and Django editor Fred Raskin have even relaxed the tempo of the film so we can truly appreciate every frame of Quentin’s luxurious work.
Normally, when I see a film, it’s easy to point out which performances stood out and which ones simply didn’t. In The Hateful Eight, not a single performance stood out from the rest but they all beautifully complemented one another. I’m not exactly sure that Tarantino was even wanting performances that “stood out” as much as he wanted the principle characters to all fit into the intricate puzzle that was The Hateful Eight. If you had to single out one character out of the whole ensemble it would be Jennifer Jason Leigh’s portrayal of Daisy Domergue. Leigh creates a memorable character because she’s embodying the stereotypical role that most male villains take on in the Western. She’s mean, she’s evil, she’s certainly a little nuts , but you can’t stop watching her throughout Tarantino’s epic.
The Hateful Eight is yet another example of the genius of Tarantino. He’s taken a specific genre (The Western) and make it uniquely his own. The movie is well crafted, well acted, and beautifully shot –but above all else it is highly entertaining.