If we were to think of movies as four quarters, much like a professional football game, allow me to inform you in advance that the second quarter of Quentin Tarantino’s double-crossing western The Hateful Eight is extremely slow. Why, you may even think to yourself during this second quarter of the film, is this moving so slowly? This is not the Quentin Tarantino I know. When are things going to pick up?
Don’t worry, friends, for I’m also here to tell you that slow second quarter is by exquisite design of the always-surprising Tarantino as he’s ramping you into your launch procedure. If The Hateful Eight isn’t the director’s best movie, although it is very good, it certainly feels like one of his most calculated, more a natural narrative sibling to Reservoir Dogs than Django Unchained. In fact, the entire affair often seems like a western version of the former as things unravel diabolically and the screen becomes markedly more and more blood-soaked.
The name of the film is apt, as The Hateful Eight chronicles eight people (give or take), not a one of them admittedly “the good guy,” as they find themselves stranded during a blizzard at the abandoned Minnie’s Haberdashery in the Wyoming wilderness. Bounty Hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell, looking like a literal bear of a man clad in fur from head to toe) and his criminal quarry (Jennifer Jason Leigh), proper British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowpoke Joe Gage (Tarantino fave Michael Madsen), ex-Confederate general Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), dubious sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), Mexican caretaker Bob (Demian Bichir) and Union cavalryman Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) all share sideways glances at one another as the group begins to feel one another out. Soon, as Russell’s character deftly observes, it becomes clear that “one or more of these people may not be who they say they are.” He has no idea.
It would do you a great disservice to detail any more plot points in this review, suffice to say that as certain truths are revealed and nefarious plans are uncovered, the body count grows like a grisly cowboy version of Agatha Christie with Jackson as its abominable Miss Marple. All the hallmarks of a true Tarantino movie are present, zeroing heavily in on the director’s penchant for chatty repartee and gratuitous violence. At over three hours long, it’s a credit to the filmmaker that – aside from that brutally get-to-know-everyone early second act — the work flies by cracklingly as it finds its footing and hits its deceptive stride.
The Hateful Eight also deals a lot, as you might imagine, with race relations in the Civil-War-era United States, dipping into homophobia — a pretty new one for Tarantino — for good measure as well. Jackson, of course, fields the brunt of the racist slang (and there’s a LOT of it) even as he turns his Major Warren into the film’s major card-holder. It paints the era and its characters as violent, mean human beings at every turn, which makes it slightly less surprising as core cast turns nastier and nastier with one another.
It’s easy to see why Tarantino decided to blow The Hateful Eight out as a full 70-millimeter film; the genre he’s paying full homage has been long known as one of the director’s favorites and he spares absolutely nothing in creating his own western masterpiece, even convincing spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone to come out of retirement for the score. The sweeping vistas of the movie’s opening are expansive direct descendants of films like John Wayne’s The Searchers and the film’s one set, Minnie’s Haberdashery, is perfectly framed and detailed by the genre’s specifics. I would find it hard to believe Tarantino will go back to the western well after The Hateful Eight as the film seems to be his definitive valentine to the classics of the category.
It’s a strong film, rounded out strongly by its able ensemble cast, and feels like a true return — after the theatrics of Inglorious Basterds, Kill Bill and Django Unchained — to what Tarantino does best. Its quiet moments work as well as its gory over-the-top ones, and though even some of the hardest fans of the director may wince at the violence of The Hateful Eight, there’s no denying that Tarantino remains the master of the dialogue-driven narrative in modern film. He has a knack for creating completely conversational scenes which play out as actively, playfully and explosively as any Hollywood blockbuster; herein lies the sardonic and jagged beauty of the Tarantino aesthetic — there’s no holding back, by words or by weapons, until the final credits roll. The Hateful Eight is no exception to the filmmaker’s own rules, even if it seems to end up being exactly what we thought it would be. And sometimes, if it’s working, there’s really nothing wrong with that at all.