The opening of Tarantino’s eighth film, The Hateful Eight, is both brutal and bleak, as a stagecoach carrying Kurt Russell’s The Hangman and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue is met by Samuel Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren, sitting atop a pile of dead bodies, with a blizzard right on their tail. A sign of things to come. It sets a harsh mysterious tone to the film, and although it takes little while to really get going, once it does, it doesn’t stop.
Audiences have come to expect the unexpected from a Quentin Tarantino movie, so when word came that his latest movie was going to be another western, cinephiles and Tarantino fans alike, were chomping at the bit to see exactly how the iconic director would handle following up the genre after his take on the Spaghetti Western. According to Tarantino, the idea of The Hateful Eight was inspired by western episodic television series of the 1960’s, more specifically, by the guest stars that would appear from time to time for just one episode. For that episode, the story would center around the new stranger in town, with nobody knowing anything about them. Tarantino was turned on by these characters’ ‘moral ambiguity’, and what he’s done with The Hateful Eight is bring together eight characters, whom all share this quality. Tarantino leaves it up to each audience member to guess for themselves, who is good, who is bad, and who was going to kill whom. Aside from the western episodic, it seems Tarantino has tapped the Peckinpah well on this one a bit. In this vein, Tarantino’s Hateful Eight is as much a tale of suspense, as it is a Western. Regardless, this setup plays to the director’s strengths, that being dialogue and character, and it is this aspect of the movie that does not disappoint.
The Hateful Eight is set in the mountain wilderness of a post Civil War Wyoming, where the motley group of stagecoach passengers become stranded during the blizzard at a frontier outpost, known as Minnie’s Haberdashery. Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter is grizzled and weary, and highly cautious about the bounty on his prisoner Daisy, played with a sheer sense of menace and humor by Jennifer Jason Leigh. It’s at Minnie’s they find refuge from the storm and their possible demise, as they are greeted by a rag tag gang of cowboys (Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Damien Bichir and Michael Madsen), but no Minnie. It takes the mystery a little long to build and the film has a slightly bloated first act, but once it does, you are in for a Tarantino filled treat. Every player in this film has their moments to shine and all of the actors are up for the task. Let us not forget this is a Tarantino flick, so once the bullets start flying, the blood flows quickly and by the gallons. The film is unquenchably brutal and especially gory (a real treat for us, but others may be a little more squeamish). Once the bodies start dropping and the heads start exploding, they don’t stop until the last frame.
It is a fairly impressive feat to keep an audience engaged for nearly three hours in one location with just a few characters, but in Tarantino’s hands, this really isn’t a problem. His knack for witty banter and direction make the ride seem brisk once the plot thickens. It is this quality that makes it feel a lot like a stage play (something Tarantino has mentioned he’d like to do with this piece after its theatrical run). The entire cast seems fit for the task and all turn in great performances. Each actor plays it all with such conviction that it really does keep you guessing up until its final bloody scene. Another note here is that Tarantino chose to shoot this one in 70mm Ultra Panasonic, a technology not used since the late 60’s. He and director of photography, Robert Richardson, use this to great advantage in beautifully shot, picturesque cinematography. Impressive considering nearly the entire film is set in one room. You can’t deny that Tarantino loves movies, and in The Hateful Eight it shows. In some ways, it’s a bit of Reservoir Dogs set in the west, and it’s good reason to get your ass to the theaters to catch this one.