Quentin Tarantino brings us his eighth film to kick off cinema in 2016 with his second Western, The Hateful Eight. The film, which boasts a fantastic ensemble cast led by Samuel L Jackson and Kurt Russell, tells the story of a group snowed in at Minnie’s Haberdashery during a blizzard in a time following the American Civil War. At the centre of this group is a bounty hunter, John Ruth (Russell), bringing the evil and unhinged Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang. However, the company at Minnie’s have a fair few secrets and not everybody is who they seem.
I’ll state from the get go that I am part of Tarantino’s cult following, albeit that’s a pretty majority cult following. Therefore when we get a new film from the film-maker, for me it’s event cinema. It’s a matter of needing to go to see the new Quentin film. Based on what I’d seen advertised for The Hateful Eight I was expecting a movie that would fill my Tarantino fix but not change the game. Thankfully for me that’s pretty much what you get.
There is a lot to love here. For one the writing is as usual superb. There’s been much speak of the script’s overuse of racial abuse, a common theme from Django Unchained, but to me it’s a hard truth as I’m sure language and people’s beliefs were as horrid and blunt in the Old West as Tarantino presents them. The story told is one that doesn’t present anything overly original but does put a nice spin on how to portray tension. I think John Carpenter’s The Thing is an easy comparison to make as our group are paranoid and threatening each other through-out. Quentin’s direction was fine and there were many great shots but the film is a bit too long (it does feature an intermission at screenings) featuring some landscape shots early on that might have been avoided. Dialogue is where The Hateful Eight succeeds and I was happy to sit through 33 minutes of set-up for our four main characters before they arrive at Minnie’s.
However the film may be more remembered by great performances over how the story plays out. The action and gratuitous violence is effect-less, the gore fun but again, nothing original.
Whilst not a direct lead, most of the screentime falls upon Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) who is a Civil War veteran turned bounty hunter. He winds up at the Haberdashery and caught in the action due to hitching a ride with Ruth, driver O.B (James Parks) and Daisy. Joining him in hitching a ride is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who professes he is the new mayor of Redrock, the town that our company are headed for. At their stop they meet hangman Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth), Cow Puncher John Gage (Michael Madsen), Senior Bob (Damian Bechir) and the old War veteran General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). All have their place in the film and have an air of mystery about them, like a Western version of Cluedo.
Jackson does steal the show with a few monologues to rival his work in Pulp Fiction but his character is a bit slimy. Tim Roth works wonders with an overly enthusiastic English accent to give him just an edge of happy dread. Again though, this weirdness makes him a bit slimy. I will say though, despite not being perfect, it was great to see Goggins given so much work and emphasis in a large film as normally he is a backing player with much to hate about all of his characters.
This is one of the issues with the film however. Despite all of them giving fantastic performances, none have sympathy. I wanted honesty and somebody to root for but as madness and chaos unfolded, the only person who’s morals I could trust was the despicable Daisy Domergue – at least I knew from the get go she was evil. It must be said too that Leigh’s performance, which at times is hysterical but at others demented, makes her a very strong contender for best supporting actress at the Oscars.
All in all, The Hateful Eight isn’t special. It’s a decent instalment in a timeless legend’s line of movies. If you’re a fan of Tarantino go and see it, you’ll most likely have a good time at the movies. With the help of Ennio Morricone’s score (because if you’re doing a Western, who else do you want to score your movie) this film is very tense, sometimes in places it doesn’t even need to be. With strong performances all around and some fairly shocking twists, Tarantino has brought a paranoid, deadly bottle episode of sorts to the silver screen in his second, but hopefully final Western.