Film Review: 'The Hateful Eight'
At two hours and forty-seven minutes, shot in full 70mm display, and featuring a wide cast of talented players, the western/crime/drama The Hateful Eight is easily Quentin Tarantino’s biggest, bloodiest, and baddest movie yet. But even that description doesn’t do this behemoth of a film justice.
Samuel L. Jackson is in his first leading role under Tarantino since Pulp Fiction – this time as Major Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter lost in a fearsome, fast-approaching blizzard. He crosses snow-trodden paths with fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is chained to his beaten-and-bloodied prisoner Daisy Domergue (a superb Jennifer Jason Leigh) to turn her in at the city of Red Rock for a big reward. Traveling in the stagecoach together, they pick up wanderer Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be Red Rock's newly minted sheriff. In glorious 70mm film, the jagged mountains perforating the sky and white landscapes form a wintry beauty that masks the hot-blooded violence to come.
It’s quite the cast of characters that only gets larger when they seek shelter from the blizzard inside Minnie’s Haberdashery – a log cabin that becomes our sole setting for the remainder of the movie. In it: Bob (Demián Bichir), a Mexican claiming to be temporarily in charge of the place; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a well-mannered Brit known as the hangman of Red Rock; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a modest and simple traveling cowboy; and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate leader in the just-concluded Civil War. In this cabin, it's cold, it's packed, and we’re never leaving the place – so strap in and get comfortable.
Essentially, Tarantino's screenplay boils down to this: lock a bunch of bad guys in a room, give them guns, and let them simmer. Even more so, there are clear North and South contingents in the room, with the most tension heightening between Warren and Smithers; their interaction comes to an exceptional climax that proves to be one of the most memorably ridiculous sequences in recent memory.
As a whole, the bad-guys-in-a-cabin setup sounds exciting - which it is - but it only pays in dividends after a very dialogue-heavy first half, through which only the more patient moviegoers could last. Indeed, the appeal of The Hateful Eight lies mostly in its ensemble of unique characters, all with their individual quirks. The cast is anchored by solid performances from both Jackson and Russell, with both having their scene-stealing moments in clever, innovative sequences that only Tarantino could have cooked up. Leigh, with her eccentric and conniving Daisy Domergue, is the clear show-stealer with her enthusing, crazed, and downright unpredictable performance – certainly worthy of her recent Oscar nomination. The woman is the time bomb underneath the table, and her presence in this film is by and large the most exciting thing about it.
For all of its clever and technical merit, there is something to be said about The Hateful Eight’s extended running time – it even pushes over three hours in its highly regarded 70mm roadshow, which includes an intermission. Combined with the film’s claustrophobic feel and a generally slower pace - especially in its first half, before our outlaws have had some time to get to know each other - the movie feels noticeably more sluggish than other Tarantino entries. Fans of his will certainly be pleased here, while newcomers are most at risk of simply giving up on the movie.
Luckily, there is plenty of payoff in the form of some incredible dialogue and copious amounts of cartoonishly gory violence – par for the course for Tarantino, and the reason why he remains one of the most popular, intriguing filmmakers in Hollywood today. They don’t completely rectify the film’s weaker first half, yet it keeps the laughs and shocks coming at a consistent, breakneck pace towards then end. Combined with an entertaining and memorable ensemble, The Hateful Eight is the kind of film that rewards patience – although some might not make it that far.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern.