“Well, well, well! Looks like Minnie’s Haberdashery’s about to get cozy for the next few days.” – Oswaldo Mobray (Roth) in The Hateful Eight.
The much-anticipated eighth film from Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight, is billed as a Western but it is far more than that. A snow storm of dizzying Tarantino dialog makes even the simplest coach ride a lyrical adventure as characters are defined and stories are shared. But once Major Marquis Warren, John Ruth and Daisy Domergue arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, the story shifts into a marvelous mystery of misleading identities and unreliable narrators. By the time John Ruth exclaims, “One of them fellas is not what he says he is,” nothing is ever as it appears and no story is ever without a hidden agenda. Between the terrific, scene-setting score from Ennio Morricone and the delightful ramblings of Samuel L. Jackson and his seven cast mates (plus a few others, for good measure), The Hateful Eight is ear candy, a bouquet of delicious discourse. The visuals are equally impressive, from the vast white snowscapes as John Ruth’s wagon races the oncoming blizzard to the confines of Minnie’s Haberdashery to every weather worn crease in each character’s face lovingly captured in classic cinema close-ups. The Hateful Eight may very well be Quentin Tarantino’s best film; only time will tell if Pulp Fiction can reclaim that distinction when the dust, snow and blood settles.
In Quentin Tarantino’s most conventional narrative script – although the film itself transcends convention – a weary, stranded traveler stops a passing wagon hoping to catch a ride to Red Rock, Wyoming. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is introduced to John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), even though they soon remember having already met nearly a year ago. Ruth is also on his way to Red Rock transporting his prisoner, Daisy Domerque (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to collect her bounty and see her hang. Ruth is suspicious of everyone, including and not limited to Major Warren. Soon they are on their way to Red Rock together, reluctantly picking up Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) along the way. Mother Nature is besting them as a mighty blizzard strands them at Minnie’s Haberdashery short of their destination. Here they join four other stranded travelers: Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), John Gage (Michael Madsen) and Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir) who is watching over the Haberdashery while Minnie is away. What follows is a furor of deception, treachery, duplicity and double-crossing perfidy. Bullets fly, blood splatters, secrets are revealed and surprises are sprung with every monologue.
Much of The Hateful Eight belongs to Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Jackson’s Major Warren teams up with Russel’s Ruth to ensure Leigh’s Domergue hangs in Red Rock. There lies an incredible dynamic trio of Hitchcockian proportions. They each stand out in their own way and each helps define and support the others: Russel suspicious of everyone, Jackson ready to kill anyone, and Leigh slithering along playing her long con ready to strike when the time is just right. Russel is magnificent, owning the first act as he encounters and sizes up each new character. But it is within a rare few quiet moments where his character shines through the rough exterior, especially when he convinces Jackson’s Major Warren to share his personal letter from President Abraham Lincoln. “Old Mary Todd’s a-calling, so it must be time for bed.” Ruth crackles, his eyes tearing up just slightly. Jackson soon takes over the narrative by midway in the film, delivering the Tarantino dialog the way only the Samuel L. Jackson can, in a way no one else can ever touch. “Starting to see pictures, ain’t ya?” he delightfully taunts the General. But, it is Jennifer Jason Leigh that is the big surprise in The Hateful Eight. As Daisy Domergue, she plays one of the most unique female characters to ever grace the big screen. She’s tough as a bull, mean as a snake and as ornery as a rabid raccoon. There is little doubt that Daisy Domergue deserves to hang. But, when the time comes to shift focus to her character and to elaborate on her tantalizing tale of escape and desperate persuasion, she rises to the challenge in spectacular fashion, delivering an Oscar-worthy performance that is instantly mesmerizing and unforgettable.
As is Tarantino tradition, the rest of the cast are no slouches either. They are damn near the perfect casting as they breathe life into a parade of the shadiest of shady characters. Walton Goggins somehow manages to make his character, Sheriff Chris Mannix, both admirable and slimy, both treacherous and trustworthy, both cunning and gullible. It remains uncertain if he is actually the newly appointed Sheriff of Red Rock or simply posing as such to ensure safe passage. Bruce Dern bravely commits himself to the bigotry that defines General Sandy Smithers, a Southern General who is heading to Red Rock to find his lost son. The amount of horror and rage on his face as Major Warren confronts him about his son’s true fate is electrifying to watch; he is a powder keg of hate waiting to explode. Tim Roth delivers as Oswaldo Mobray, the questionably British hangman of Red Rock, who whimsically and elegantly distracts and deters Ruth and company from any possible alternative motives. His explanation of the difference between Civilized Justice and Frontier Justice is undeniably captivating. While neither Demian Bichir nor Michael Madsen get an extraordinary scene-stealing moment like the rest of the cast, they are each solid and colorful – and often funny – in their roles of Bob the Mexican and John Gage.
The Hateful Eight represents Quentin Tarantino’s most conventional narrative and most restrained film. But, when talking about Tarantino, his film still defies convention and he often exceeds restraint with crimson flourish. Basically, with minor exception, the film is confined to two locations: Ruth’s stage coach and Minnie’s Haberdashery. He rarely strays far from either the coach or the one room shop. He allows his camera to paint and absorb every corner, every plank of wood, every nail, every inch that defines these two locations. He then stages his cast within their walls and lovingly caresses their imperfect features with an impassioned fervor and unequaled clarity as they accent the delectable dialog with a squint of an eye or a billow of smoke dancing along the brim of their hats. He is not afraid to shock his audience with plot twists, colorful dialog or tantalizing spurts of bloodletting. All bets are off; his Haberdashery is a violent, dangerous place where no character is safe, no matter how dear or despised. The Hateful Eight also represents Tarantino’s most confident handling of pace and structure, he effortlessly raises the stakes and tension only to slow things down to examine the story and the characters. The peaks and valleys are as complicated and exhilarating to navigate as those Ruth’s stage coach navigates on its way to Red Rock. Add to this some of the best cinematography of the year.
In true Tarantino fashion, things get as extreme in The Hateful Eight as they did in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill. It may take a while, well into the second act, for him to turn on the gore; but, when he does, it is startling and amazing to watch. He paints the walls red with gruesome carnage – literally huge splatters of blood everywhere. There is no holding back – and to think The Hateful Eight is considered mainstream, Academy Award fodder! While never as extreme as the death of Hitler in The Inglorious Bastards or the excess of the battle with the Crazy 88s in Kill Bill, the bloodletting within The Hateful Eight is heightened by the intimacy of the confined setting and the minimal set of characters. By the time bullets fly and the violence erupts, Tarantino ties the story to each and every character. They may not be liked or trusted, but they are not strangers in the full sense of the word by this time, which accents the savagery of the bloodshed.
The Hateful Eight is a masterpiece of Tarantino cinema, a tornado of confabulation that fully engages its audience into a wondrous dance of words and stories. It is a lyrical as would be expected. It is also equally shocking and suspenseful. The film is also an exercise of “Chekhov’s gun” principles where every element introduced or seen plays out in glorious visual style. Nothing is left hanging on the wall, from coffee to stew to an oddly placed gum drop. The film is a delirious, delightful mix of classic John Ford westerns and Agatha Christie mystery with a healthy dash of Alfred Hitchcock, but it remains all Tarantino despite the inspirations. The acting is phenomenal, from Kurt Russel to Samuel L. Jackson to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Character is the name of the game and every actor is fully invested and immensely entertaining, with Walton Goggins and Bruce Dern getting the best fat to chew upon. The score by Ennio Morricone is perfect, whisking away the audience to another time and place, integral to setting the tone and resonance. Robert Richardson brings the best out of Tarantino’s vision with his award worthy cinematography, while Fred Raskin masterfully edits the film to a nimble and velocious 3-hour cut. The roadshow release presents the film in 70mm, complete with an overture and an intermission; these additions make The Hateful Eight an unforgettable experience. The Hateful Eight is Tarantino at his best, a must see.
The Hateful Eight (5 / 5)