Quentin Tarantino has the most definite style of any of the directors currently making films. When one goes into a Tarantino movie, you know what you’re going to get.
The Hateful Eight is another great Tarantino movie, filled with protracted conversations and a smattering of blood-soaked carnage with a sprinkle of witty comedy. While some of his works have used this formula and fallen a little flat in places, The Hateful Eight works as a love letter to westerns and uses the Tarantino formula in a very effective way.
The movie opens with Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) trying to hitch a ride in John Ruth’s (Kurt Russell) carriage before a brutal winter storm catches up with them. It turns out they are both bounty hunters; Ruth is the type to bring his targets in alive because he doesn’t want to deny the hangman his job. So
of course the “charming” Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is handcuffed to Ruth, and he isn’t too fond of the idea of picking up one of his competitors. Yet by the time the reach the cabin where the bulk of the movie takes place, he is up two passengers as they find Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) also seeking refuge. So these four end up sheltering with another four people in a cabin to wait out the storm, and Ruth is even less happy with all these strangers eyeing his quarry .
That’s enough specifics about the story. It is filled with conflict even without Domergue playing various angles to be a smart-ass and escape. There Northerners and Southerners
and the wounds of America’s civil war are very much open, and Ruth has very strong reason to suspect some of his cabinmates of being in league with Domergue. Unlike some Tarantino films (Ingolrious Basterds for one), all of the underlying conflict between the players really works to make the long stretches of conversation poignant and filled with tension. None of these long, monologue-like conversations feel like dead ends to fill time. The tension builds and builds as the various stories are poked and prodded by the eight haters.
Right up to the twelve-minute intermission the tension builds and builds (oh yes, there is an overture and an intermission). After the intermission things change dramatically, and while the intermission itself seemed to come
rather late in the film, it could have just felt that way because of the fast pacing of the second half juxtaposed with the deliberately slow rising of tension in the first.
As far as 70mm goes, firstly, lucky you if there’s actually one near you. There are only three such theatres in Canada. Parts of the movie—depicting the motley crew’s carriage travelling through the mountains—are obviously made for the panoramic view, but (as the trailers suggest) a vast portion of the film takes place with a group of people in one room, so there are long stretches where the benefits of the panoramic view are kind of wasted.
Tarantino does what he can with the intimate setting, but they’re still sitting around in a cabin! Still, what you see of the great outdoors is worth the trek (as long as it’s reasonable) for the 70mm experience.
The skill of the actors helps the story greatly in not falling flat. The stuck-in-a-storm scenario works quite well here, because the actors are all gripping in their own ways. Russell is unflinching in his portrayal of the bounty hunter Ruth, and
the fact that Domergue is a woman doesn’t stop him from pistol whipping and elbowing her in the face. Leigh’s Domergue subtly works her tricks into the other players’ minds and does her best to piss everybody off, especially Ruth and Warren, as much as she can. In one scene she will be working her angles and then switch to the six-year-old prisoner routine, shouting or spitting. When we meet Jackson’s Major Warren he is sitting on the road with three corpses strapped to a saddle, proof of the two bounty hunters’ opposing strategies. Jackson and Russell have plenty of opportunities to play off each other and the rest of the cast, all of whom add something to the mix except Michael Madsen. Madsen plays a quiet character and for large chunks of the movie doesn’t have much to do, but he’s gotten plenty of time in Tarantino films and it makes sense to have him more on the sidelines. One more shout-out to the cast has to go to Channing Tatum for taking a small role as a gunslinger and doing great things with it.
Tarantino movies are not like any others currently out there, lump them or love them. The Hateful Eight uses Tarantino’s skill-box to tell a great story. His trademark bloodshed and deep talking work really well in this case, but if you’re not a fan of Tarantino or westerns, there isn’t anything here for you. Having said that, like Django Unchained this is a western, and like Django Tarantino has made a film that will please fans of westerns that may not be so interested in his other movies. The Hateful Eight doesn’t apologize for anything; come Oscar season it will surely be near the top of many lists in more than one category.