‘The Hateful Eight,’ the 8th full length feature film written and directed by modern master Quentin Tarantino, is his loving ode to the ‘spaghetti western,’ the particular subgenre of films in the 60s and 70s in which Italian filmmakers curated the cowboy mystique, most notably Sergio Leone’s Clint Eastwood ‘Man With No Name’ trilogy. The movie is also an Agatha Christie style chamber-piece, a commentary of the evolution (or not) of race in America, a deconstruction of Civil War politics, and a gory blast of gratuitous violence. Most of all, as with all of his filmography, it’s totally unpredictable, darkly hilarious, and a wild ride at the cinema.
From the opening bars of Ennio Morricone’s first new original western score in 40 years and the languid 70 MM shots of snowy Wyoming vistas, it is apparent that Tarantino is crafting a film close to his obsessive, film-loving heart. He takes his time introducing each player in this parlor play, first on the road to Red Rock, and then in the second of two locations, Minnie’s Haberdashery, a singular set that allows for scenes-within-scenes and one-on-one conversations within the same room. None of these characters are what they seem, with the exception of the hardened but naïve John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth, played with a combination of cocksuredness and vulnerability that only the great Kurt Russell can bring.
Russell is crowded by a menagerie of solid actors and regular Tarantino players, none as close as his prisoner Daisy Domergue, chained to his wrist, who is played by the inimitable Jennifer Jason Leigh in a style that can only be described as hillbilly-femme-fatale. She’s a nasty piece of gritty outlaw and the center of the driving plot. Russell’s Ruth is determined to take his bounty in to the hangman at Red Rock alive, as his nickname implies. He is met in the road by two individuals on opposite spectrums, black union soldier Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson chewing up one of his best roles) and white, newly appointed sheriff, the deeply racist Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins oozing southern confederate pride). The intricately written exchanges between these four characters on their way to escape an oncoming blizzard build the foundation for the rest of the movie’s themes and emerging plot.
Once they reach their destination, they join the rest of the titular eight – a collection of obvious liars and malcontents, played by Demian Bichir, Bruce Dern, and Tarantino favorites Tim Roth and Michael Madsen. Their introductions fuel the burgeoning mystery and add layers to the persistent themes of North-South animosity and the soldier’s struggle to find his place in the world. It’s here that the story takes its’ turn after building the character foundation, and what unfurls does so in true pulpy violent fashion, exploding with time-bombs of malice. As with any Tarantino film, the joy of getting to know the characters, watching them interact in impeccably framed scenes, and eventually destroy each other both figuratively and literally is what compels film lovers to continue to bask in the glory of this mad genius writer/director . . .
Written & Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Running Time: 180 min.
* * * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- A