In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?
The promotional posters and trailers for “The Hateful Eight” announce it as “The 8th Film by Quentin Tarantino.” While he has indeed made eight films, won two Oscars, is responsible for endless imitations of his movies, personally, only two of them were what I deem good; “Reservoir Dogs” and “Jackie Brown.” You’ll have to read to the end of this review for my critique of “The Hateful Eight” but of all his movies, “Reservoir Dogs” is still his best.
You have to compare Tarantino back when he wrote and directed “Reservoir Dogs” to the likes of young Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, and Milius, at a time when they were all young and hungry. Before they were big names, they each gave us gritty, realistic movies such as “Jaws,” “Taxi Driver,” “THX-1138,” and “Conan the Barbarian.” They were eager and determined and thankfully, it showed in their work. However, as they became bigger and more well-known, they all lost that edge and the same happened with Tarantino. “Reservoir Dogs” was a visceral nightmare, a story about a jewelry heist gone wrong and what’s more, the majority of the movie took place in one location, something that is not easy to achieve onscreen because one setting can get boring pretty quickly if not done properly but Tarantino pulled it off.
“The Hateful Eight” feels like Tarantino returning to his roots. A couple of majestic exteriors of the beautiful but brutal Wyoming landscape are introduced early on but the majority of the film takes place inside a large, log cabin while a blizzard rages outside. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter who is hand-cuffed to his prisoner, accused murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They are on their way to Red Rock via stagecoach, where Ruth will hand Daisy off to the Hangman and pick up his $10,000 bounty. Along the way, they pick up another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a man who claims that he is to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, once they reach the destination. When the storm proves too much, they decide to stop off at a stagecoach passover called Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they meet four more strangers; Englishman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern).
Once settled in however, Ruth, having been in the business a long time and possessing a knack for ascertaining contemptible and untrustworthy characters, begins to feel perturbed with all of the shady characters who just happen to be residing in the cabin along with them. When Marquis begins to wonder aloud, where Minnie, the owner of the cabin could be, and is then informed by Mexican Bob that she is out of town and that he is running the place for her, his suspicions quickly become aroused. Marquis, Ruth, and Mannix decide on a plan of action, to discover the strangers’ real identities and motives but it is during this investigation, that they unearth misrepresentations about one another, leaving each of them to wonder exactly who they can trust.
“The Hateful Eight” thankfully brings Tarantino back down to earth. The majority of his movies are so excitable and restless, much like the director himself, we are constantly moving, with very little time afforded to take in exactly what’s going on around us. Here, with a running time of almost three hours, we have more than enough time to absorb every little detail. And for a Tarantino film, that is a rarity.
The movie was shot utilizing Ultra Panavision 70, which allows the film a wider picture aspect ratio, 2.76 times as wide as it is high, giving characters larger-then-life personalities and letting audiences experience the Wyoming wilderness the way it was meant to be seen. The last few movies to use this shooting technique were “Ben-Hur,” “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” and “Khartoum,” back in the 1960s. With digital photography taking over movies and filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh, and James Cameron standing by it, Tarantino wants to prove to the world that film needs to be preserved rather than going the way of the Dodo. While there are arguments for both sides, digital photography has proven to be more cost-effective and that is one of the major reasons why the studios are using it. Others argue that film has far superior image quality and depth of field and when watching a movie, that is what matters most. Whatever the outcome, Tarantino shooting his movie on an almost fifty year-old film style, has re-ignited that debate and in this instance, watching “The Hateful Eight” on the big screen, is really what going to the movies is all about.
Once we enter the log cabin, the film stops being a western and gradually becomes a whodunnit, comparable to Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians.” Although the events in the story take place in post-Civil War Wyoming, inside the cabin, they could easily transpire in any time-frame. Each character, from leading to supporting, has a secret that eventually sees the light of day, for some, it’s offered it up voluntarily, for others, it’s taken, forcibly. While each character is individually unique, none of them are to be underestimated. From the get-go, you never truly know who’s who and Tarantino actually excels in this department, letting the story and events develop progressively, at times, lethargically but then things pick up again and he thrusts you back into the remainder of his uncharted and untraversed epic.
Each actor herein shines in their respective roles but going in, I was in no way expecting Walton Goggins to steal the show. In TV’s “Justified,” he gave that show a much-needed unorthodox villain, here, he simply outshines everybody throughout the entire movie and is a force to be reckoned with. Early on, he gives the appearance of a simple, backward hillbilly but as the film progresses, his character, while not always center stage, is always around and he becomes the most complicated of the bunch.
One element I recognized almost immediately, was the director’s use of composer Ennio Morricone’s music. Back in 1982, the music maestro composed an entire score for John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” a movie which flopped at the time but has gone on to become a cult classic. Carpenter, a musician in his own right, used only a small percentage of the score Morricone composed and the rest was never utilized. The soundtrack was released years later and I bought the CD back in the early 90s so you can imagine my surprise when I heard several cues from the album make its appearance in “The Hateful Eight.” After a little research, I found out that Tarantino did in fact contact Morricone and as a fan of “The Thing,” and of the soundtrack, was able to secure the rights to the unused tracks.
If I didn’t known that Quentin Tarantino had directed “The Hateful Eight,” I never would have guessed, in a million years, that it was the auteur’s work. This feels so far removed from his previous work but that is a good thing. Instead of that hungry, carnivorous filmmaker he once was, it appears that Tarantino is progressing and diverging into new territory. And for a filmmaker, that is a whole new beginning.
In select theaters December 25th, Nationwide January 1st
For more info about James visit his website at www.IrishFilmCritic.com