For Quentin Tarrantino’s eighth movie (he counts Kill Bill 1 & 2 as one movie and so should you) he’s gone back to his previous stomping ground of that of the old west; a genre which turned out to be extraordinarily fertile ground for his particular brand of foul mouthed and violent story telling with the rip roaring Django Unchained. It isn’t so suprising considering that this is a sandbox the director can use to play with many of his reocurring themes in such as casual sudden violence, colouful turns of phrase and lots and lots of racist people. While some things remain similar to his earlier movie such as weather that’s just as brutal as the hard-nosed characters, issues of slavery – although this is post, not pre-civil war – and exit wounds the size of Andre The Giant’s fist, The Hateful Eight turns out to be a very different style of film from Django.
A stage coach cuts through the deep snow of Wyoming as it strives to make it to refuge before it’s overtaken by the snow storm that’s hugging their ass tighter than a tailgating car when it comes across the stranded form of Major Marquis Warren – a Civil War veteran and bounty hunter. Riding in the carriage is another bounty hunter, the notorious and robustly whiskered form of John Ruth who has earned the nickname of “The Hangman” due to his habit of bringing his prey in alive so that they can taste the noose and his captor, the volatile and acid tongued Daisy Domergue. Forming a shaky understanding the trio soon cross paths with yet another man stranded in the thickening blizzard, an ex-Confedorate man who goes by the name Chris Mannix and who claims to be on his way to the same town as he’s sue to be sworn in as the new sherriff – a story Ruth enthusiastically calls bullshit on. Nevertheless, the party all soon reach shelter in the shape of Minnie’s Haberdashery to find the place missing Minnie and her staff, but full of a selection of varied souls who state their name and business to a steadily wary Ruth. Allegedly running the place is Senior Bob, a large Mexican in an even larger fur coat, cooling his heels by the fire is the elderly southern general Sandy Smithers, claiming to be the new hangman of the town of Red Rock is smarmy Englishman Oswaldo Mobray and slouching in the corner is raspy rancher Joe Gage and all get to settling down to wait out the raging storm despite their mounting suspicions.
It soon becomes apparent that at least one person among this group isn’t who they claim to be and is obviously is waiting for the right time to strike and free the tiny, demonic form of Daisy from the lifeless body ofJohn Ruth while probably having designs on killing everybody else while they’re at it…
While The Hateful Eight proudly wears the obvious skin of a below zero Western, it interestingly turns out to have more in common with Tarantino’s debut feature Reservoir Dogs than Django Unchained. The connections are numerous, not least the appearence of Tim Roth who wonderfully channeling the caddish ghost of Terry Thomas and Michael Madsen who sounds more and more like he gargles gravel in his spare time. Limited locations, a tight cast, a play-like structure and a strong mystery vibe concerning a character pretending to be someone else all play like vintage Tarrantino while the stunning back drop of the frigid wastelands of Wyoming gives it all a fresh spin. The other thing The Hateful Eight noticeably remembles is oddly (and awesomely) John Carpenter’s The Thing which also notoriously follows a group of tough alpha males cut off by a horrendous winter slowly realizing that one or more people in their midst isn’t who they claim to be while Kurt Russell strides about their person sporting monumental facial hair. It works for me. Yet another aspect that inspires this feeling is the sinisterly gorgeous score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone – effortlessly providing his first score for a Western in 40 years – whose unused queues for Carpenter’s gooey classic are recycled here to good use.
The MVP’s in the predictably high quality acting stakes are a spirited Samuel L. Jackson who scores the movie’s best moment by spinning a hideously aggresive tale involving a blow job to a cowering Bruce Dern (“Y’all seeing pictures now, ain’t ya?) and Walton Groggins as a good ol’ boy sheriff wannabe, whose loyalties entertainingly fluctuate with every new revelation. Honorable mentions go also to Kurt Russell’s John Wayne inspired, bravado fueled bounty hunter whose moustache suggests that when the movie’s over he’s going to head off and fight Sonic The Hedgehog and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who’s obviously allowed herself to be possessed by a Holly Hunter loving deadite to provide us with the lunatic, witch-cackling, abuse taking prisoner, Daisy Domergue.
The film’s blackly funny too, inviting us to chuckle at the latest bout of inhumane treatment Ruth insists on putting Domergue through (maybe too much – that guitar he smashes was actually a 150 year old instrument that was valued at $40,000 – talk about oops) and nailing us every now and then with some genius line readings (Roth’s delivery of the line “Yeees” during his introduction is fucking resplendent).
Now so far, so good. This is all fun tense stuff with the kind of great acting, script, cinematography and gallows humour (pun intended) that only Quentin can deliver, but one complaint continuously aimed at him does prove to be slightly true in this case. Good as this all is, it really does all boil down to being three hours of angry cowboys talking at each other – even longer if you caught a 70mm screening on the big screen – and the pace can admittedly be – as John Ruth himself says at one point – real molasses like. Now, Quentin can make ’em as long as he wants and that’s something that’s never gonna bother me much, but there was some serious shuffling at my 4, 5 and 6 o’clock during the movie’s final staight when I first caught it on opening night – but then you could argue that it’s a criticism that could also be levelled at Django and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood as examples of that’s how Tarantino operates.
But then, if he truly has got the intention of quitting after his tenth movie, then we’d better embrace all the Quentin we can while he’s still around.
The eight may be hateful but y’all should be grateful.