The Hateful Eight Review
That Quentin Tarantino is at it again. The Hateful Eight, Tarantino's eighth film and second consecutive western, is everything you'd expect from Hollywood's modern day maverick. And yet, though the film features all the weirdness you've come to expect from Tarantino, it may be his most ambitious, wacky and polarizing film yet. In the end, and as per usual, it works. The Hateful Eight may not be quite in the same league as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill or Inglorious Basterds and it may not be a step forward that many fans wish Tarantino would make. Still, the film is a tour de force all the same, with great dialog, memorable performances and all the dark comedic violence you can stomach.
In the middle of snowy Wyoming, bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) is heading towards the small town of Red Rock, where he attends to turn over murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be hanged. After picking up fellow bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and supposed sheriff of Red Rock Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the group arrives at the tavern Minnie's Haberdashery, where Mexican caretaker Bob (Demián Bichir), hangman Oswald Mobray (Tim Roth), drifter Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and former Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) await. A blizzard forces these eight (as well as Ruth's stagecoach driver O.B., played by James Parks) inside for the next several days, and as per usual with Tarantino, tensions and questions amount. Where is Minnie and her husband Sweet Dave? Is someone in the tavern trying to steal Daisy from Ruth to collect her bounty? Or worse, is there a plan to set the vicious outlaw free?
Written soon after Tarantino's last gonzo western Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight was a film that almost didn't happen. After the script for the film leaked in January of 2014, an enraged Tarantino went all Coppola with Megalopolis and declared the project dead; it wasn't until a live reading of the script a few months later (featuring most of the film's eventual cast) that Tarantino was inspired to revisit the idea. Thank goodness he did. For one, this might be the most visually satisfying film Tarantino has ever made, which is saying something considering the stylistic flourishes of Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction and Django. Shot in glorious 70 millimeter film (a classic Tarantino homage to the epics of old), The Hateful Eight pops off the screen. Some may question why Tarantino chose to film Hateful Eight this way considering 70% of the film takes place inside Minnie's Haberdashery, but one viewing of the film shows the technique works. When we get a glimpse of snowy Wyoming, it's one of the breathtaking sights in recent memory. When we're stuck inside the tavern, the camera makes us feel the claustrophobic weight all eight strangers are under, a brilliant technique as the weather gets colder and the tension continues to boil.
The most impressive aspect of from the film's technical side however isn't from Tarantino, but from the film's composer Ennio Morricone. The legendary composer, known for his scores of Sergio Leone's Dollar Trilogy and pretty much every important film not named The Godfather, made his return (at Tarantino's request) to the western genre here for the first time since the 1981 spaghetti western Buddy Goes West. Needless to say, he hasn't lost a step. While the famous guitar twangs, haunting wails and faint harmonica sounds from his best known work are scarce here, Morricone's use of trippy synth and classical score makes for a very tight, tense soundtrack. Like most great scores, the music never overpowers or overshadows scenes, while still serving some memorable moments (the music for the opening and close of the film are highlights) and highlighting the emotion onscreen. Even if The Hateful Eight isn't the Oscar contender many thought it would be, Morricone seems a shoe in for what could be his last Oscar nomination.
Of course, the film's greatest strength is not surprisingly Tarantino's wit, and he puts it to good use here with the dialog. As with every other Tarantino film ever made, The Hateful Eight contains some great one liners, a magnificent monologue or two (from almost all the characters) and a killer sense of humor. In many ways, the film continues to highlight Tarantino's most recurring theme within his work. Those who wish to see more to a film than just a story will likely find fault with Hateful Eight being all story and no meaning, but it's safe to say they aren't looking deep enough. At their core, all of Tarantino's films, from his early gangster work to his kung fu revenge poetry to his re-writing of history, are stories about people stuck in unfortunate situations musing about insignificant happenings in life. That's not coincidence; it's the way Tarantino sees the world, and his constant return to this theme (along with the violent, low life people he chooses to highlight it) will eventually go down as the defining part of his legacy. The Hateful Eight is just another chapter of that, just with a western setting and a Hitchcock thriller motif to go along with it.
As per usual, the cast is an assortment of past names, favorites of the director and one star. The best of the bunch is Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose Daisy is the best villain Hollywood has produced last year aside from Kylo Ren. Whereas The Force Awakens antagonist had hope for redemption however, Daisy is as ruthless as they come, a woman who isn't afraid to get down and dirtier than her male counterparts are. Right behind her is Tim Roth as the effeminate Oswald. Criminally underrated for almost two decades, Roth is an absolute delight as Wyoming's wandering hangman, so much so that it's a shame he didn't get more screen time. Elsewhere, Samuel L. Jackson has all the best lines as the righteous Warren (including an amazing yet disturbing monologue that closes the film's first half), while Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins are delightfully over the top as the no nonsense Ruth and the wannabe sheriff (arguably, Goggins' character is the only one who goes through a transformation throughout the film). The rest of the group, be it Michael Madsen's quiet Gage, Dern's racist Smithers, Bichir's shifty Bob or Park's wimpy O.B., all are captivating in their own right. As for the big star of the film Channing Tatum, I'd say it's best you find out his role all on your own. Needless to say, he continues his upward trend of being one of the more interesting movie stars in Hollywood today.
It'll be interesting to see where the general film community ranks The Hateful Eight among Tarantino's best work. For me, the film fits nicely in the middle. It won't go down as a cinematic masterpiece the way Pulp Fiction did, and it doesn't have the misanthropic intensity of Reservoir Dogs or the stylistic flair of Kill Bill (in my opinion, Tarantino's most underrated and captivating work to date). But it's an excellent piece of work from an excellent director, brimming with all the things that have made him both a beloved and controversial auteur twenty plus years ago. In the end, The Hateful Eight is that, for better or worse. If Tarantino hasn't won you over, you're best to not make the trek through snowy Wyoming. If like me Tarantino is a voice you want to hear, get ready to take the wildest ride this side of Mad Max: Fury Road.