Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, and one that almost never was, is the American epic, The Hateful Eight. Released on 70 mm, and clocking in at around 187 minutes with overture and intermission included, the mere spectacle of the film’s presentation harks back to old western and road films of the sixties, but Eight actually has more in-line with the intimacy of an old-fashioned murder mystery. Tarantino has said, after all, that The Thing (1982) was a great source of inspiration here.
Set after the American civil war, a stagecoach makes it way through a wintry landscape as a blizzard snaps at their heels. Inside sits John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter accompanying his latest target; the infamous outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the town of Red Rock to be hanged. Along the way they just happen to encounter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a controversial war hero turned bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the newest sheriff of Red Rock making his way to be sworn in. And while at first suspicious of these two men coming upon the stagecoach in the middle of nowhere, Ruth eventually agrees to take them onboard.
They soon arrive at a common road stop, Minnie’s Haberdashery, to take shelter from the storm but find it absent of its regulars, and instead filled with a group of enigmatic strangers. There’s Bob (Demian Bichir), a Mexican adamant the cabin’s owner left him in charge while away; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a quiet cowboy who sticks to the shadows; General Sanford (Bruce Dern), a confederate with a devious military past that rivals Warren’s; and lastly Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), an outlandish British chap who claims to be Red Rock’s hangman. But with a harrowing blizzard trapping the group inside, it’s not long before Ruth begins to suspect that one or two of the men are not there by chance, and are looking to free Daisy, which will undoubtedly come at a bloody price.
The film lives up to the hateful part of its title, with at best presenting two anti-heroes in Ruth and Warren. Both are equally despicable as they are heroic, causing the film’s moral code to be rather grey, and once inside the cabin, it’s a free for all as to whom, if any, prove to deserve a happy ending. Jackson (Django Unchained) gets his first top billing in a Tarantino film, and is at the top of his game, as is Russell (Death Proof) who revels in his gritty and ruthless hunter. Goggins (American Ultra) leaves a lasting impact too as he switches between confederate-racist and just-lawman, and Roth (Selma), Dern (Nebraska) and Bichir (The Bridge) all impress as well, rounding out a stellar cast with some iconic characters. Yet, while Madsen (Kill Bill) is just as fun, he feels a little short-changed in his characterisation, playing the straight man in a film that over-indulges in its theatrical characters.
At its core though is Leigh (The Machinist), who is so captivating as the wild and borderline psychotic Daisy that she not only matches but also surpasses her male co-stars without any of the more flamboyant dramatic moments that they get to indulge in. There’s a quiet strength that comes across after she is put through the ringer multiple times, getting black eyes and losing teeth being some of her less violent moments, and she merely continues on as if minor worries. Yet, it’s the quirky manner in which Leigh plays her that is truly enthralling. There is actually very little to the character that doesn’t rely solely on her performance, and without Leigh it may have resulted in an entirely different character (and possibly story), but her talents and mere presence here provide an integral ingredient.
Tarantino’s dialogue is as exceptional as ever, and while favouring sprawling conversations, they never seem to bog down the pace or feel like they have outstayed their welcome. Lines are given impact and play like a game of chess, with each character countering with their own, and while they may be drawn out at times to ridiculous lengths, the dialogue always feels as if it’s simmering away in an almost palpable stew of pleasure and tension. In saying that, Eight’s final act lacks the normal tightness of a Tarantino story, and while it’s a satisfying ending, there’s some desire for these puzzle pieces to have come together a little more intricately.
Tarantino relies heavily on composer Ennio Morricone to set the tone, especially with a striking overture that delivers a sense of foreboding gloom and tension as the stagecoach makes it’s way through the snowy terrain, including material originally made coincidentally enough for The Thing. The choice of 70 mm was one that could have easily been seen as nothing more than a novelty or gimmick for Tarantino to pay homage, especially considering a large potion of the film takes place within a single room leaving little reason for such wide-shots, but once inside Minnie’s Haberdashery the reason becomes clear. The room is captured in a way that allows our hateful characters to spread out but never go unnoticed, allowing the audience to scrutinise over every character’s interaction, look or gesture, whether in the forefront or background, as the mystery of these seemingly eight strangers begins to unfold.
The Hateful Eight is a film only Tarantino could pull off, bending genre and film conventions in a way that couldn’t conceivably done by another. If possible, see the ‘roadshow’ version in 70mm, if not to appreciate a format rarely used, if ever, than merely for a film experience long forgotten.