Violent, humorous, over the top, mysterious, gripping, well acted, beautifully shot, long, excessive, and thrilling are just some of the adjectives you can use to describe “The Hateful Eight”. The easiest way to describe it though is pure Quentin Tarantino. Like all of Tarantino’s films, the stylish extravaganza is brimming with confidence and bravado. This exercise in brutal violence, that is “The Hateful Eight”, isn’t as easily likeable as some of other Tarantino’s flicks. And furthermore, if you don’t like other Tarantino films then you won’t like this movie either. As wonderful of a throwback to classic cinema “The Hateful Eight” is this is still very much a Tarantino film. And, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“The Hateful Eight” plays all the right notes for me. It’s everything I describe above and much more. The 3 hour epic’s running time is barely felt at all with a deliberate and tension building pace. The movie never drags, it only intrigues. I could have stayed in this world that is wonderfully set up and orchestrated for even longer if only Tarantino had let us . This all being said this isn’t the most “fresh” of Tarantino’s films. I did want just a little more out of the ending and some of the setup is familiar. But, even still this is some of the most fun and interesting experience I’ve had all year in the cinema.
Broken up into separate chapters (and an intermission to boot) this 187 minute long film is always kept moving and interesting. By breaking the movie up into bit size pieces it always feels like the movie is making progress even when Tarantino wants to indulge in a seemingly never ending barrage of dialogue. In many ways, even more so then “Reservoir Dogs”, “The Hateful Eight” is a stage play written for the screen. There is only really two locations (three if you count a quick flashback scene). The characters are all kept confined to one location due to a massive snow storm that keeps these eight strangers in one cabin.
Each one of the characters has a very distinct personality. Samuel L Jackson plays a bounty hunter (and more importantly he plays himself again), and Kurt Russell does the same. Jackson not only gives his most engaging performance in years but his best performance in a Tarantino movie since perhaps “Pulp Fiction”. I love it when Kurt Russell pops up in movie because he always delivers, and deliver again he does here.
Janet Jason Leigh plays the captive, Daisy Domergue, in a star making turn from her. Walton Goggins give perhaps my favorite performance of the movie playing the supposed new sheriff of Red Rock. Demián Bichir, and Michael Madsen round part of the cast as some of the strangers in the cabin. Tim Roth returns to a Tarantino production as the Hangman. Then, Bruce Dern finalizes the cast of the strangers (well, there is one other actor that makes a significant appearance but he pops in unexpectedly so I’ll keep him a mystery).
The key to all these characters is they are not all they appear to be. In many ways this becomes like “Clue” in a cabin western setting. Who is lying about who they are? Who is going to threaten Kurt Russell’s character for bringing Daisy to hang? Accompany by Ennio Morricone’s magnificent score, Tarantino through a long series of dialogue and discussion builds hard tension between the characters. Taking place not long after the American Civil War, the wounds have still have not healed for some in the cabin.
While most of the movie is made up of entirely dialogue (in typical Tarantino fashion it’s always engaging) the movie is still violent. And, when the violence hits, it’s brutal. In many ways I want to say this is some of his most brutal scenes in any of his movies (but we all know his films have been this way since the beginning). Plenty of blood is spilled, violence against women is on display and a very bizarre scene of sexual assault is also shown on screen. The violence is essentially the payoff to the dialogue, and what a payoff it makes.
From a pure cinematography stand point this is Tarantino’s most skilled looking film to date. Shooting with the same lenses that shot classics like “Ben-Hurr” this film is a wide spanning and gorgeous looking film geek experience. The scenic shots of the cold and uncompromising blizzard are absolutely stunning and shows off the strong grip on the craft from not just Tarantino but also the director of photography Robert Richardson. The cabin feels claustrophobic but the outdoors feels dangerous and unforgiving. I felt cold watching the movie (but perhaps that was simply the lack of heat from the movie theater).
The movie drives for its build up and it’s payoff. Sometimes the payoff doesn’t always work. That final payoff at the very end isn’t as strong as you want, leaving your saliva clamoring. As indulgent (and I mean that in a positive way) as “The Hateful Eight” is sometimes the ending is very abrupt and in many ways not as satisfying as you would hope. I didn’t feel a clear resolution that I was hoping for in an otherwise masterful film.