Tarantino returns with The Hateful Eight, his second Western (technically Django Unchained was a Southern, but we won’t nitpick) for an unashamedly brutal tale that is a joy to behold. Albeit, slightly overlong.
I’m not going to get into the finer points of the story here, all you need are the meat and potatoes as QT has crafted a delicious murder mystery of sorts, and there is much to be said for the simple pleasure of not knowing what you’re in store for. That said, I can’t just say “The Hateful Eight is fucking brilliant” even if it would cool on the poster. All you need to know is this, bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth is on a stagecoach bound for Red Rock with wanted criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). En route they encounter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who are left stranded in the oncoming blizzard. Ruth offers them a lift to Red Rock and the foursome journey onwards.
The stagecoach makes it to Minnie’s Haberdashery, a safe place to wait out the blizzard and warm up with some of Minnie’s frontier famous coffee. It is here we are introduced to the rest of the characters, Bob ‘The Mexican’ (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and General Smithers (Bruce Dern). Ruth believes that one of the men is not what he claims to be and is a member of the violent Domergue gang plotting to set Daisy free.
Tarantino’s trademarked slow burn scenes and hypnotic dialogue are on top form, the first 45 minutes isn’t afraid to take its time and might be deemed slow by other film’s standards. But this is no ordinary film. I promise I won’t spend too long gushing over the superb cast, but I have to highlight a few standout performances in a film filled with standout performances.
Walton Goggins has been a hidden gem for too long, standout turns in Justified, The Shield and Sons of Anarchy should have garnered him more attention than they did. I have been a big fan of his and he shines as the supposed new Sheriff of Red Rock, armed with QT’s dialogue Goggins serves up some of his best work to date. Tarantino has never struggled to round up an impressive cast; he loves reinventing actors who have drifted off the map (and Michael Madsen). As expected, the whole cast is unanimously fantastic with many of the filmmaker’s regulars populating the cast.
The first time Kurt Russell appeared in a Tarantino movie was the unfairly judged Death Proof, some will say that it was a rare failure from QT, but I have never seen it that way. A financially unsuccessful experiment with Robert Rodriquez, yes, but Grindhouse was far from a failure on a creative level. Russell is on fire as Ruth, a walrus-like moustache and an animal pelt on his back, he has a blast with the role. In a strange twist in the tale, once they reach Minnie’s and are hunkered in for the night, a strong The Thing vibe resonates throughout the characters as growing mistrust becomes palpable. It’s a shame that his other Western released last year (Bone Tomahawk) got buried on VOD as it’s almost as violent as The Hateful Eight.
I know that I promised to stop gushing over the cast, but QT has given Samuel L Jackson his best role for quite some time. Marquis is a complicated character who ends up playing detective as he tries to piece the mystery together, aided by an unlikely sidekick, the third act delivers the goods in spades for suitably gruesome finale. Rather than tell you that there isn’t a bad performance on offer, or drone on that Ennio Morricone’s masterful score is a thing of beauty, all I should say is go and see it to experience it for yourself.
Sadly, the box office performance hasn’t matched Django or Inglorious Basterds. Now, Tarantino is a rare filmmaker that can’t truly be measured by box office receipts alone, the commercial failing of Death Proof showed that even a talent like Tarantino wasn’t immune to the brass tacks of the business. Shortly after Death Proof, QT commented in an interview that he was getting sent scripts and offered studio movies as he was now deemed getable. The decision to release the film in 70mm is one that has undoubtedly harmed its box office potential, but there are few filmmakers working today that would take such a gamble to realise his vision.
Skimming through various movie review forums (don’t panic I’m not about to do a found poem) many fans are labelling The Hateful Eight “A return to form”, “Tarantino’s best film yet” or in the case of one confused viewer “I thought this was an Adam Sandler movie”. While I wholeheartedly agree that The Hateful Eight is an excellent piece of filmmaking on every level, I have never believed that one Tarantino film can be measured against his previous work. It’s not a case of being better than what he’s done before; it’s simply his latest. Should history show that Tarantino did retire after making ten motion pictures, then The Hateful Eight is one heck of a way to kick start the final three films of his career.