By Marty Mulrooney
The Hateful Eight is a Western mystery film directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained). His eighth feature film, the titular ‘Hateful 8’ are played by Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern. Some time after the American Civil War, eight strangers seek shelter from a blizzard at a stagecoach stopover know as Minnie’s Haberdashery. Bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Russell) is transporting fugitive Daisy Domergue (Leigh) to Red Rock, where she will be hanged and he can collect his $10,000 reward. But not everyone seeking shelter from the blizzard is who they say they are…
The Hateful Eight very nearly didn’t happen. When the original script leaked in 2014, Tarantino cancelled the movie, but had a change of heart after directing a live reading at the United Artists Theater in Los Angeles. Thank God he changed his mind – this is one of his most accomplished and enjoyable films to date. It’s easy to forget when watching a film that the strength of the movie-going experience often relies on the strength of the script. Tarantino is a great writer and he wrote a superb script when he penned The Hateful Eight.
The movie begins with Major Marquis Warren a.k.a. The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) sitting on a pile of dead bodies, three frozen corpses worth $8,000. Smoking his pipe as the snow falls, John Ruth and his fugitive prisoner Daisy Domergue pull up in a stagecoach being driven by an unassuming man called O.B. Jackson (James Parks). Warren needs a ride from Ruth – they’ve met previously but that doesn’t mean they trust each other. As they discuss the possibility, their dialogue sets the tone for the whole movie: you’re never sure who’s telling the truth and who’s lying.
Things get more complicated when Chris Mannix a.k.a ‘The Sherriff’ (The Shield‘s Walton Goggins) also needs a ride. He claims his horse has died and that he’s on his way to Red Rock too, to become the new sheriff. If they don’t give him a ride, there won’t be anyone the pay them their bounty money when they get there. It’s a brilliant set-up and it’s only just getting started…
With the blizzard intensifying, there’s no choice but to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach lodge. Surprisingly, they’re greeted not by Minnie, but instead by Bob, a.k.a. ‘The Mexican’, who claims Minnie has gone to visit her mother and left him in charge. Once inside the lodge, the hateful eight is complete: there’s Oswaldo Mobray a.k.a. ‘The Little Man’ (Tim Roth); Joe Gage a.k.a ‘The Cow Puncher’ (Michael Madsen); and Sanford Smithers a.k.a. ‘The Confederate’ (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate general.
The performances are all superb in their subtleties (even from the lesser-known cast members) and despite the majority of this nearly 3-hour film consisting of them simply talking to each other, it never drags… and it’s never simple. Again, it comes right back to the quality of the script. There’s so much detail to read between the lines, every piece of dialogue is another clue clicking into place. As Major Warren (Jackson) tries to figure out the truth of the situation they’re all in – Ruth is too blunt for any real thinking – the whole experience becomes like a classic murder mystery whodunit.
Shot in Ultra Panavision 70mm (with the roadshow version in this format running 6 minutes longer), the general release in the UK is sadly only being shown only in its digital format, meaning this reviewer missed out on the full ‘glorious’ 2.76:1 aspect ratio and extra minutes (there were small black bars at the top and bottom of the screen). However, even in its ‘inferior’ digital format, The Hateful Eight looks truly glorious. The snowy landscapes and sweeping blizzard are epic and breathtaking, the gloomy lodge is roomy yet claustrophobic when it needs to be (the film often evokes comparison with The Thing, despite the difference in genre) and Ennio Morricone’s score, his first Western score in 34 years, is a taut masterpiece.
Of course, when the violence comes it’s completely over the top, brutal and bloody. This is still a Tarantino film after all – and you have to respect a filmmaker who always puts his true vision, unadulterated and never watered down, on-screen. Some of the more shocking moments won’t be to everyone’s taste (and in truth, the film probably didn’t need them all) but this simultaneously sweeping and intimate epic revels in its intricate web of lies.
Not all will be revealed by the time the final credits roll, but repeat viewings will no doubt continue to offer elusive rewards. In the end, the truth doesn’t really matter. Get in the stagecoach and out of the cold. Take a look at this letter from President Lincoln while we ride. Looks like Minnie’s Haberdashery’s about to get cosy for the next few days…
9 OUT OF 10