Bounty Hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is escorting his $10K bounty, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) via horse-drawn carriage to Red Rock, Wyoming with an impending blizzard on the horizon. En route, they meet a fellow bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), stranded on the road with three corpses in tow. They agree, after some debate, to travel together to Red Rock. They pick up one more lone soul on the road, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims that he is going to Red Rock to become its new sheriff. With the blizzard quickly approaching, the group holes up at Minnie’s Haberdashery and encounter a Mexican named Bob (Demián Bichir) who is running the locale in the stead of Minnie, allegedly away visiting relatives. Inside is Englishman, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), who claims to be the Hangman at Red Rock, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a traveler in Mobray’s stagecoach, and an old Confederate general, Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). It immediately appears that the group will have to spend two to three days together in the small locale to weather the storm. However, it is also immediately apparent that none really trust the other, and cabin fever is about to set in…The Hateful Eight has to be Tarantino’s weirdest film to date. To me, that’s a good thing. I expected this film to be traditional like Basterds and Django, but Tarantino really eschews all audience expectations with this one. Interesting to note, I perused the IMDb via my smartphone after viewing the film, and in their Trivia section for this film, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) was a major influence on Tarantino during his writing of the screenplay. I actually thought during the opening twenty minutes or so, Hateful Eight was going to play out like Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) which inspired John Carpenter to make Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).
The pacing of The Hateful Eight, at a runtime of nearly three hours, is the divisive factor among audience members. The gruesome violence in the film, of which there is quite a bit, will not deter anyone—it’s commonplace in cinema, now. (Although Tarantino’s violence has now reached the point of absurdity. It’s almost as if he views the human body as one big balloon filled with blood that spews geysers when punctured). Even the film’s more audacious scenes, like Major Warren’s narrative about how he killed General Smithers’s son, are old hat for Tarantino—he’s already filmed a forced homosexual, sexual act with interracial partners before, for example. With an almost glacial pace, Tarantino forces his viewers to figuratively rub shoulders with his characters during the film’s runtime while its characters very uncomfortably rub shoulders together before an inevitable showdown.
The triumph of The Hateful Eight, like Death Proof, is its subversion. From the outset of when Samuel Jackson and Kurt Russell’s characters first meet, the tension and the suspicion between the two is apparent. (The tension between the members of the two sides of the Civil War only heighten the immediate tension between the characters.) The film’s dialogue (Tarantino’s most lauded attribute) is cryptic. For example, Mobray gives a speech in the first act about how the act of hanging represents justice in civilized society as opposed to a posse killing a wanted criminal after hunting him down. Intuitively, one would think that his speech is clever character exposition. (It is.) His speech also plays out in powerful irony in the final scene of the film, its resonance really felt after you exit the theatre. The best scene with the use of dialogue, which really represents the film’s ethos, is when Daisy sings a song while playing the guitar. The first verse of the song is rather sweet and poetic. Ruth asks Daisy to sing another verse, and the second one is amazing—it prompts Ruth to snatch the guitar out of her hand and smash it to bits.
Visually, The Hateful Eight has a lot of stuff hidden in its compositions, and when the compositions aren’t being crafty their showing their stunning 70mm ability. (Robert Richardson gets an Oscar nomination for his cinematography.) There is a bleakness and hopelessness to Westerns filmed in the snow, like Sergio Corbucci’s masterful Il grande silenzio (The Great Silence) (1968), and The Hateful Eight is able to replicate those sentiments. Minnie’s Haberdashery looks like a meticulously composed trap for its inhabitants. The wilderness is perfectly captured.
The Hateful Eight is a weird film. A truly dark comedy about brutal subjects like murder, the Bounty trade, the Civil War, and plain-old human existence. All the performances are tops with especial note to Jackson who plays the lead in the film. He plays a complex character who constantly reveals another side to the audience as the film plays out. The humor is beyond dark—blowing off someone’s head isn’t funny, and it is even less funny to particular characters when a twelve-thousand-dollar bounty depended on its identity. Leigh receives an Oscar nomination for her portrayal as Daisy, and she’s incredible—she looks like such a bad-ass in the film, a proper villain. (I’m a true fanboy for Leigh. She is one of my favorite actresses, and I love nearly everything she does. Like most guys, I fell in love with her when I first saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).) I think what I especially love about The Hateful Eight, although I am still digesting it, is that Tarantino is not going to garner any new fans with this film. This type of daring and creativity is what I long for in cinema. Quentin Tarantino is officially back on my radar.