Clue meets Cabin Fever. Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Academy Award nominees Samuel L. Jackson, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth and Bruce Dern star in Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.
Cast of Characters:
Major Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren – Samuel L. Jackson
John “The Hangman” Ruth – Kurt Russell
Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue – Jennifer Jason Leigh
Chris “The Sheriff” Mannix – Walton Goggins
Bob “The Mexican” – Demian Bichir
Oswaldo “The Little Man” Mobray – Tim Roth
Joe “The Cow Puncher” Gage – Michael Madsen
Gen. Sanford “The Confederate” Smithers – Bruce Dern
O. B. Jackson – James Parks
Six-Horse Judy – Zoe Bell
Jody – Channing Tatum
Director – Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino
Producer – Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh & Stacey Sher
Rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
In post-Civil War era Wyoming, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth is on the way to Red Rock to deliver his $10,000 prize fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for hanging. Along the way, their stagecoach comes upon Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a fellow bounty hunter transporting the bodies of three outlaws and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the newly appointed sheriff of Red Rock. Though anxious to get to Red Rock to collect his reward, Ruth allows both men to hitch a ride.
With a blizzard approaching, the quartet take shelter at a stagecoach stopover called Minnie’s Haberdashery. Once inside, the four meet another quartet of eccentric personalities: Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen); former Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern); and Bob “The Mexican (Demian Bichir), Minnie’s helping hand who’s watching over the establishment while she’s away visiting her mother. As night falls and the blizzard rages on outside, the distrust between these “Hateful Eight” deepens as each one suspects that the other might not be who they say they are.
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, The Hateful Eight (for those wondering why it’s not his ninth, I’m assuming it’s ’cause he considers both volumes of Kill Bill to be one film), almost never happened. After announcing his followup to Django Unchained in November 2013, a leaked copy of the script found its way online the following January. No one knows whether it was one of the cast members or their agents, but regardless of who it was, Tarantino nixed the project altogether. However, after directing a live read of the script at the United Artists Theater in Los Angeles, cooler heads prevailed and he eventually changed his mind.
There are two eras of Tarantino’s career. His early, pre-21st century career consisted of his small-scale crime capers Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. Then following a six-year hiatus, he rattled off a string of grandiose epics such as the martial arts/revenge homage Kill Bill, exploitation-thriller Deathproof, black comedy war film Inglourious Basterds and his slavery-themed Western Django Unchained. Though it opens with some stunningly gorgeous shots of the Colorado landscape, The Hateful Eight has Tarantino going back to his small-scale roots by setting most of his Western/mystery inside one room.
Imagine if Reservoir Dogs, John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone and John Carpenter’s The Thing crossed-over with an Agatha Christie whodunit. That’s The Hateful Eight in a nutshell.
Those that are turned off by Tarantino’s sensibilities as a filmmaker need not apply here, and those expecting another grandiose tale will most likely be disappointed by what is essentially an onscreen stage play that hinges entirely on the writer/director’s trademark witty banter and band of eclectic characters. Like most of his films, The Hateful Eight consists of a series of dialogue-driven vignettes that gradually peel back one uncovered truth after the other (and like all of his other films, the screenplay is practically the cast’s co-star). If you’re the type of viewer that doesn’t have the patience to sit through the profane conversational setpieces before the guns come flying out, then it’s safe to say you won’t like this, but watching everything unfold all the way up to the gloriously bloody final-act is what makes this film the exhilarating experience that it is. That it takes place in mostly one spacious setting is all the more impressive (Tarantino’s one misstep is a bit of unnecessary narration he can’t help but indulge in).
Despite the smaller scale, that doesn’t mean Tarantino settles for small potatoes in terms of quality. Along with his all-star cast, he brings back on board Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained), whose Ultra Panavision 70 format is put to great use even when cooped up inside the cabin (the wide format allows for the whole cast to be in the shot at once), and legendary Spaghetti Western composer Ennio Morricone (a tense conversation between Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Dern set to the most ironic rendition of “Silent Night” on piano is a nice touch). Who else can do better at scoring slow-burn, brutal showdowns than the man who gave us “The Ecstasy of Gold”?
Of course, part of the film’s fun lies in watching this A-list cast sink their teeth into these roles. Be it Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, Tarantino knows how to make despicable characters entertaining, and The Hateful Eight is far from an exception as each vulgar, profanity-spewing character goes above and beyond in living up to their part of the film’s moniker. Be it Major Warren’s delight in a horrific story of his that connects him with Gen. Smithers, Daisy singing a little song that turns out to be a pretty big dig at John Ruth, or the way Ruth returns the favor by beating the shit out of Daisy, this octet is far from mommy’s perfect little angels, and the film embraces their sadistic nature with great confidence.
Some characters naturally get more time than others, but each of the eight get at least a showcase moment or two to shine. Jennifer Jason Leigh is sure to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her deliciously foul performance as Daisy Domergue, a woman so nasty you wanna cheer every time she gets a good hard fist upside the face. Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson, the always dependable Kurt Russell and a scene-stealing Walton Goggins deliver equally nomination-worthy work. Tim Roth and Michael Madsen (great to see him back on the big screen again), both of whom go all the way to back to Tarantino’s breakthrough Reservoir Dogs, turn in strong work as two of the secondary leads. Demian Bichir provides great comic relief, and screen veteran Bruce Dern is terrific as the surliest old cuss you’ll ever come across.
Note: The presentation I had was the 70 mm Roadshow presentation, which was over 180 minutes long (even at over 3 hours, the film moves smoother than a number of films half its length, and even more, I’ve labored through). The standard digital screenings most viewers will be seeing this January 1, when it opens in wide release, has a run time that’s 20 minutes shorter. I’m not sure what exactly if any of the actual footage is being cut, but if the opening overture and the 12-minute intermission are being counted as part of the cuts, then it shouldn’t be much.
While it isn’t as provocative or as twisted as either Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is still a bold, outrageous and insane Agatha Christie mystery from hell, and let’s be honest, not as twisted from Tarantino is still pretty twisted compared to everyone else. Anchored by the filmmaker’s strongest staples of engaging dialogue and a plethora of superb performances, Tarantino’s eight feature-length film may not be to everyone’s taste, but those looking for blood-soaked, racial-slur flying whodunit will find his love letter to Ford, Peckinpah and Leone to be a hell of a good time.
I give The Hateful Eight an A (★★★½).