It may be heresy in film circles to admit this, but I’ve always found Quentin Taratino to be a bit overrated. Sure, he’s good with dialogue and direction, but his continuous touting as the best director ever seems to my mind to be a bit of an overstatement. Still, he is a man conscious of cinema, and his filming The Hateful Eight on 70mm harks back to the good old days of the medium – his understanding and appreciation of film explains why he would be the one to create such a filmy film. The Hateful Eight is a one-room epic, full of twists and thrills, which perhaps is just a bit too long to really be enjoyable.
Our movie begins with a stagecoach racing towards the town of Red Rock, the threat of an approaching blizzard hanging over it. The passengers – famous bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell), who takes in his prisoners alive so they can face the hangman’s noose, and his fugitive prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). On the way, they encounter another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Weather conditions force the group to seek refuge in a stopover on a mountain pass, where they meet four strangers. Ruth soon comes to the conclusion that he has stumbled into a trap intended to free Daisy, and suspicion begins to rise as the group becomes aware they may not all make it out alive.
From the get-go, this is clearly a Tarantino film – it is packed full of snappy dialogue (with its fair share of foul language), excessive violence, well-observed and individual characters and a general sense of filminess. Of course, it goes without saying that if you are not a massive fan of Tarantino and his body of work, this film is not for you.
Critics have described The Hateful Eight as having the spirit of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and I think that’s a mighty good comparison. The film works in much the same way as the book, with ratcheting tension and questions posed about who we should trust and align ourselves with. The viewer is encouraged to shift their allegiances throughout the picture, and until we reach the climax, we are never really sure who the bad guy is. This set-up makes the film more interesting, especially as we learn that people who are ostensibly our protagonists have committed some of the more heinous acts.
A whole array of Tarantino’s regular supporting cast are here – Samuel L. Jackson is on-hand to do his typical Samuel L. Jackson, and Kurt Russell makes for a fun leading man, clearly channelling a darker version of John Wayne. The entire cast, though, is on-form, for what is effectively an eight-hander in which everybody must be equally present and nefarious. To my mind, there is a stand-out performance, and it is Goggins as Mannix. It takes the film a good hour or so and asks for a large degree of audience patience before Mannix evolves into more than just a stereotype, but when the layers get piled on, he becomes something special.
The Hateful Eight won Ennio Morricone the Oscar for Best Score, and deservedly so. The score here is essentially that of a horror film (the premise, star and composer all call to mind John Carpenter’s The Thing, as does the use of three unused tracks from that film) with some minor western flourishes here and there. It helps up the tension massively, and his disturbing carnival-like pieces in some of the film’s more grotesque scenes generate a perverse sense of humour.
The movie asks for a lot of patience from the viewer, and when it reaches its final hour, it is a treat. It’s a shame, then, that a lot of the film’s beginning is a bit boring – I appreciate that the medium offers us wonderful detail and that Tarantino basks in the glory of the snowy vistas, but some viewers will be fiddling in their seats, waiting for the ten minutes of mountains to be over so the film will get on with it.
All in all, The Hateful Eight is a gripping film that is a typical Tarantino experience full of humour, brilliant dialogue and an ensemble of fantastic actors. When it gets going, it is a treat, but don’t expect the three hours to fly by.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson (Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (John Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue), Walton Goggins (Sheriff Chris Mannix), Tim Roth (Oswaldo Mobray), Michael Madsen (Joe Gage)
Running Time: 167 Mins