Genre: Drama, Comedy
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir
Release Date: December 25th, 2015
Just when you think you know what Quentin Tarantino will do next, here you realize just how wrong you are. After the commercial and critical success of Inglourious Basterds in 2009 and Django Unchained in 2012 (both of which produced Oscar wins for supporting actor Christoph Waltz), buy it seemed like Tarantino had found a unique genre all his own. Both of those fictional films crafted revenge stories using historical periods we’re familiar with to show people with little power taking on cruel figures who used their positions of power for evil. The movies were sprawling and large enterprises. By comparison, treat The Hateful Eight is a small movie.
It’s small not in character or depth. It’s small in scope, which gives writer/director Tarantino a beautiful opportunity to reveal his powers as a filmmaker.
From the impactful opening scene (which shows the camera panning away from a cross in the middle of a wintry landscape), it’s obvious that we’re in the hands of a great filmmaker who truly understands and appreciates the medium. Tarantino has the patience to make the audience wait for the action to begin and within a few moments of the opening shot, a stagecoach appears in the background carrying some of our main characters.
The main characters in the stagecoach are Ruth (Kurt Russell), a gruff bounty hunter, and his prisoner: a psychotic and ill-tempered outlaw named Daisy Domergue (a wonderfully cackling Jennifer Jason Leigh). The two despise each other. During their travels, the stagecoach picks up a tough bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and a former criminal named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be a newly-elected sheriff. For a while, Tarantino just lets us watch this group arguing and articulating their perspectives to one another.
The dynamic conversations and arguments about their roles in the Civil War and their thoughts on a letter that Warren states is a correspondence he received from President Lincoln really make these disgruntled and disagreeable characters stand out.
In the midst of a wintry storm, the stagecoach is forced to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a lodge that serves as the setting for the second half of the feature. In that lodge, new characters — played by Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern — are introduced alongside a mystery. One of these men is lying about their identity and so trapped in this desolate bunker, the characters must fight to survive and try to find out which of them is hiding something.
What Tarantino has done here is craft a mystery in the midst of a Western parable. If it’s the director who brings viewers in with his distinct style, it’s the characters who keep the story going. Each of them is despicable in their own way but Tarantino finds the uniqueness of each of them, despite the arrogance and hate they display throughout the picture.
The enclosed space these characters are stuck in really forces these characters to get along, despite their hard personalities. There is plenty of bloodshed (this is a Tarantino film after all) but that doesn’t begin until ninety minutes in and only after Tarantino has beautifully captured his characters and this desolate setting.
After a script leak several years ago, it didn’t seem like this movie would ever be made but fortunately, Tarantino overcame his doubts and captured this great story onscreen. With a masterful score by Ennio Morricone, beautiful cinematography from Robert Richardson and commanding performances from this eclectic group, The Hateful Eight is a high-spirited Tarantino mystery that really stands out in his oeuvre.
Review by: John Hanlon