I’ve had a complicated relationship with Quentin Tarantino. I spent years too afraid to admit that I didn’t think Pulp Fiction was the greatest film ever made or that Kill Bill was only okay. It’s not the violence that I have a problem with but rather that people sensationalise the films because of the violence. They’re so over-the-top and cartoonish that it’s kind of refreshing, I guess, but it’s not big nor is it clever. The one thing I will give him continued credit for is his excellent use of the English language. That man knows how to create a sentence and knows the best people to cast. In the hands of someone like Christoph Waltz a Tarantino script becomes something spectacular. In fact it’s only in the last few years that I’ve started to relax about Tarantino. Inglorious Basterds is by no means his best but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Django Unchained is probably my favourite to date so I was really looking forward to the film that started out as it’s sequel.
The Hateful Eight had a stressful journey to its release but, finally, it made it to almost every cinema. It builds itself up to be something quite spectacular what with its all-star cast, incredible score from Ennio Morricone, and the Ultra Panavision 70 landscapes from the first section all set up a film of epic proportions. What follows is something that both does and doesn’t deserve this kind of build-up. Tarantino trick’s his audience by taking the action from the snowy mountains of Wyoming into a secluded Haberdashery: moving from the great outdoors to inside by the fireplace. Tarantino uses the 70mm format, most commonly associated with epics like Ben-Hur, to really examine the players on his stage.
Opening during a dangerous blizzard, we find Marquis Warren (Samuel L.Jackson), a bounty hunter, stranded in the middle of nowhere with the dead bodies of men he was bringing in. Thankfully, he is discovered by the carriage carrying fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and the prisoner (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) he is transporting to Red Rock to be hanged. Along the way, the trio pick up fellow traveller Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) an ex-Confederate who just so happens to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock and the man who is needed to give these men their bounties.
Unfortunately, the four are driven off the road and into the shelter of Minnie’s Haberdashery where they discover the owner missing and a strange Mexican called Bob (Demián Bichir) in her place. The rest of the titular group is made up of Michael Madsen’s gruff Joe Gage, Tim Roth as the plummy hangman Oswald Mobray, and the Confederate General Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern). What ensues is less like the Western the opening may have promised and more like the result of a Tarantino script being blended with an Agatha Christie novel.
Despite the very dialogue heavy narrative, there is an obvious amount of tension seeping through the entire film. The action may be constrained to one, incredibly large, room but there is enough intrigue and mistrust there to keep things interesting. This is classic Tarantino and you know people aren’t what they say they are and eventually he’s going to turn everything on its head to surprise you. With no way of knowing anyone’s true motives, Hateful Eight more than slightly brings to mind John Carpenter’s The Thing. The sense of paranoia and betrayal hangs in the air beautifully until Tarantino finally reveals the truth to his audience.
Of course, this tension is only heightened thanks to a well written screenplay. The atmosphere alone wouldn’t enough to sustain our attention but add Tarantino’s traditional wordmanship and it’s a highly riveting affair. Nothing more so than Samuel L. Jackson’s lengthy monologue that ends Act 1. It’s a hilarious but horrific affair that plays on an audiences attitude to race. Bound to make some rolling in the aisles and others incredibly uncomfortable. This is, when it comes down to it, Jackson’s film. It’s his greatest Tarantino role to date and he excels even in a breadth of talent this huge.
Kurt Russell is delightful as the gruff John Ruth but never quite overtakes the brilliance of his facial hair. It is Jennifer Jason Leigh who has received the majority of the award attention and it can’t denied that her portrayal of Daisy Domergue is incredible. In fact, all of the cast of players make a pretty decent impression save perhaps for Michael Madsen who offers little beyond his gravelly tone of voice. Bruce Dern working off his Nebraska success in a less intense role ad Tim Roth fills the Christoph Waltz dandy role perfectly. It’s an absolutely flawless ensemble and all work with Tarantino’s words with great talent.
Yes, The Hateful Eight isn’t going to be the best film you’ll see this year but that doesn’t matter. It’s not the best Taratino film you’ll ever see but it is, most definitely, a Tarantino film. What I’m finally coming to understand about the director isn’t that he’s a flawless director but that he’s a consistent one. In a world of underwhelming sequels, remakes and paint-by-numbers film making, he is consistently refreshing, exciting and funny. As a writer he makes me feel things that very few other people could and as a director he reminds me what’s really important: making enjoyable, fun and interesting films for like-minded people to enjoy. And enjoy it I did.