"Move a little strange, you gonna get a bullet. Not a warning, not a question, a bullet."
Quentin Tarantino. Now that I have your attention…. Because that is the way it works with his movies, whatever it is about, whoever is starring in it, whenever it is taking place, we need only hear that name and we, as a movie loving audience, will watch it. His directorial filmography is littered with one masterpiece after another (and also Death Proof) so it is safe to say that ‘The Hateful Eight’ has a lot to live up to, especially as this film was originally shelved due to a leaked script, then reinvigorated which would immediately suggest that there is something very special to be found within this outing.
As a bounty hunter (Kurt Russel) escorts his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to prison he picks up two other passengers, a fellow bounty hunter (Sam Jackson) and a local sheriff (Walton Coggins). From there they arrive at a lodge and are greeted by an aging Confederate General (Bruce Dern) as well as three other strangers (Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Demian Bichir). Tensions run high as they wait out a blizzard and it becomes apparent that someone has an ulterior motive for being there…
Though ‘Django Unchained’ was his first foray into the western genre, ‘The Hateful Eight’ is Tarantino’s tribute to it. From the Ultra Panavision film to the score by Ennio Morricone and the fact that it is three hours long (similar to another western you may have heard of ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly’, QT’s favourite film of all time), it feels like it came from the 1960s, without any of the limitations that might stifle some of the blood and profanity used throughout this. But despite that gargantuan running time the film never feels long or drawn out and that is mostly down to QT.
Despite the fact that it takes place primarily in one location, Tarantino utilizes every inch of the space. It feels isolated and claustrophobic as tensions slowly climb to boiling point, even then the characters are bursting through the walls of the lodge as it becomes apparent that the building cannot contain their personalities. The intensity of their interaction only increases and once I had a profile of the building’s geography, I subconsciously started to worry about which specific character’s whereabouts in the room. Then there is the script, and while it suffers slightly from some familiar elements such as a less than graceful non-linear section. Aside from that it is as fantastic as you might expect from Tarantino. The usual blend of violence, dark humour and compelling character studies are all on show.
Like the greatest westerns Tarantino also sneaks in a few political allegories as well. He addresses race relations and the tumultuous state of a nation that has just recovered from tearing itself apart. But if this sounds too heavy handed do not despair, there is no shortage of fun to be had with ‘The Hateful Eight’, I felt as if Tarantino himself was loving every second of being able to make this movie.
His decision to film it with 70mm film is a bold one and it more than fulfils the promise. It may seem ironic that such a wide format is used for such a confined environment, but with the cinematography of Robert Richardson it captures every detail of the settings and displays the frozen wilderness of the American frontier in stunning detail.
The cast is superb from top to bottom. Kurt Russel is completely captivating as notorious bounty hunter John Ruth, as is Walton Coggins as well as Tim Roth, Bruce Dern and Channing Tatum. Samuel L Jackson is also magnificent, in what may be his best work since ‘Pulp Fiction’. But the true standout could be Jennifer Jason Leigh as the rabid and feral Daisy Domergue, a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination.
What these cast member all have to do, and succeed at, is conveying a subtle sense of mistrust as they establish their own character profile, only to up haul that profile later on in the movie. Even the seemingly reliable characters have secrets to hide because, despite its western setting the film has heavy influences from mysteries of an Agatha Christie nature as the true motives and obscurities unfold as the film marches forward. I felt compelled to continually guess and try to judge each character’s position concerning the situation at hand, and Tarantino still managed to defy all of my expectations and surprise me.
‘The Hateful Eight’ stands as one of Tarantino’s best films, it is as ruthless, entertaining and humane as one could possibly hope for.