The Hateful Eight is peak Tarantino – a talky 3-hour beast of a movie shot and presented in an obscure format (70mm film) that features all the grandiose monologues and crazy violence we’ve come to expect from the modern master.It’s also a continuation of Tarantino’s examination of the past (following his last two features – Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained) that thrums with great vengeance and furious anger, building up a powder keg of hate before exploding in its third act. What a trip.
Tarantino’s movies are often called pastiche, tying together his disparate influences into something that’s unmistakably unique but shares its DNA with other works. The Hateful Eight is no different, but goes even further by drawing heavily on Tarantino’s own past films. Beyond the usual recurring faces (including Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Samuel L. Jackson – the man Tarantino calls his muse), the general bottle premise is most like the single-setting Reservoir Dogs, the examination of America’s dark past is carried over from Django, Jackson’s character could be seen as an amalgam of his Pulp Fiction and Django roles, and the score (one of the year’s best) is by legendary composer Ennio Morricone, a man who scored the Spaghetti Westerns that helped shape Tarantino’s aesthetic.
So yeah, there’s a lot to grab onto in The Hateful Eight and it could be seen (with its overture, intermission and 3-hours plus runtime in the 70mm format) as a supremely self-indulgent movie from a filmmaker who’s crawled up his own ass. But Tarantino is fired up and, just as in real life, he’s got a lot to say about the current state of America and how we got here.
Tarantino movies live and die on their dialogue and the actor’s abilities to deliver it, and he’s once again again assembled a crack crew. Set eight or ten or twelve years after the Civil War in wintry Wyoming, The Hateful Eight stars Kurt Russell as John Ruth, a gruff bounty hunter who’s taking his captured quarrel Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by stagecoach to Red Rock where she can be tried and hung. Waylaid by an encroaching snow storm, Ruth acquires two more passengers desperate to escape the cold – Red Rock’s new sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) and celebrated Yankee war vet turned fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson).
Unable to brave the storm any longer, the travelers take shelter in Minnie’s Haberdashery and are greeted by four new faces: a refined Englishman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), mysterious cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), aging Southern General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) and Bob The Mexican (Demián Bichir), a quiet man who’s got run of the place while Minnie’s away.
The general idea is to throw these characters together (and there are a few more beyond the main eight) in a tight space with guns and grudges and let the fireworks happen. Much of the pleasure comes in the slow reveal of their backstories, but suffice it to say that some folks know more than they initially let on, lending the film a mounting murder mystery vibe.
There’s continued themes and refrains, as the door has to be bolted shut repeatedly, John Ruth beats Daisy while suspecting everybody of being in cahoots, and Marquis Warren has to gain and regain everyone’s trust as he’s a black man in a newly emancipated America, surrounded on all sides by enemies. As surreptitious poisonings happen and it’s clear that someone is trying to help Daisy escape, a murderous parlour game emerges and guns are drawn and ready to go.
The dialogue is (as always) totally electric and the reason why most folks show up. Funny, verbose and freighted with meaning, the words themselves are one of the stars of the movie. Another is Samuel L. Jackson, who gets an opportunity to shine in a lead role after being in the wings for Tarantino’s last few movies. His character, Major Marquis Warren, is a war hero and successful bounty hunter who’s stayed alive despite a hefty price on his head. He butts heads with Sheriff Chris Mannix (Goggins), a Souther good ole boy with plenty of prejudice in his heart.
Goggins is oily and incredible (which shouldn’t be a surprise to fans of TV’s Justified), graduating to a full-fledged Tarantino player here after a bit part in Django. He’d be the true standout in a great cast were it not for Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her Daisy Domergue is a ruthless criminal who’s no less dangerous for having been caught (think The Joker or Loki). She’s unhinged from the start and once she bares her fangs (actually her broken teeth) it’s clear that Dasiy’s a cornered predator that’s ready to strike.
Special mention should also go to Russell’s giant lip rug, which the actor’s claims was like a “moustache wearing a man”. If there’s any justice then that crumb catcher will get nominated for all of the awards this year.
Of course all that talking leads towards a violent end, as The Hateful Eight bottles up its potent anger and sprays red all over the walls and ceiling of Minnie’s Haberdashery. Guns crack with the strength of cannons and hit like rockets, and of all the on-screen deaths very few are easy. The finale is pitched and desperate, never abandoning Tarantino’s hyper-verbose style but supplementing it with truly nasty violence. This is a dark movie, one in which the eventual hero is still basically a shitty, self-serving person.
It’s a dire statement on the times we live in, a nihilistic treatise that Tarantino drives home with the strength of a sledgehammer. The stylistic tics are all still present (time jumps, chapter titles, needle drops) but Tarantino is going further down the rabbit hole of his obsessions than ever before with The Hateful Eight. Thankfully his prodigious talent and keen ear for dialogue make the movie go down smooth, as he comes full circle on America’s checkered history and suggests that the Mason-Dixon line (and ignorance) shouldn’t be allowed to separate us.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Runtime: 187 minutes (Roadshow 70mm Cut)