One certainly has to hand it to Quentin Tarantino — as a film-maker, he has taken violence, hatred and perversity to the next level and has made quite a living from the results. He has also created quite a few amazing two-hour films — unfortunately, most of his movies run more than two and a half hours, because he intersperses the blood-letting with a more than generous supply of sitting around and talking the plot out.
Things are no different with Tarantino’s ninth picture, The Hateful Eight, which sees a group of mysterious gun-toting cowpokes — all with seemingly different motives regarding a captive woman brought in to hang by a “gentleman” bounty hunter. To populate this storyline, the director utilizes some of his stock actors, Kurt Russell (“Grindhouse: Death Proof”), Tim Roth (“Reservoir Dogs”), Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown”), Walton Goggins (“Django Unchained”) and Michael Madsen (“Kill Bill, Volumes 1 and 2”), along with some “new” faces such as Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Jake Squared”), Bruce Dern (Academy Award nominee for “Nebraska”), Channing Tatum (“Jupiter Ascending”) and Demián Bichir (“Machete Kills”), among others.
He also peppers the dialogue with so many curses and racial and anti-woman epitaphs, the working title should have been the “Nigger, Bitch, Fuck” movie. And set as it is shortly after the Civil War, I can understand the usage of the first two words, but I finally had to draw the line when no demonstrative proof has been given that the F-word was used in the Old West (especially the MF-word, which appears several times in this picture; my research shows the word existed, but not the definition we know of today). Anyway, enough of the English lesson. Despite the unpleasantness of the endeavor (Tarantino even manages to make oral sex depressing), the overall results are a very imaginative and insightful motion picture.
Also remember, The Hateful Eight isn’t your grandfather’s “Stagecoach,” the 1939 John Ford classic about a group of travelers who find out about their companions and themselves while riding the stage in Old Arizona. Here, it’s Wyoming — in the middle of Wyoming — when bounty hunters John Ruth (Russell) and Maj. Marquis Warren (Jackson) meet just ahead of a blizzard on the way to the town of Red Rock. Ruth is hauling in Daisy Domergue (Leigh, a leading candidate for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar), a foul-mouthed, murderous lout that everyone thinks is crazy. Soon, another traveler, Chris Mannix (Goggins), an ex-Confederate captain and newly-elected sheriff of Red Rock finds his way onto the crowded coach.
Because of the weather, though, the group is forced to stop at a midway point, Minnie’s Haberdashery, where another gaggle of miscreants are introduced: A sullen, long-haired cowboy, Joe Gage (Madsen); a hangman heading to Red Rock, Oswaldo Mobray (Roth); a former CSA general (Dern) and a Mexican who claims to be an employee of the missing Minnie (Bichir). Oh, what a tangled web he weaves. As in “Django Unchained,” Tarantino invests much attention in snowy vistas, rafters and floorboards, frozen breath, whiskers and stagecoaches (there are about ten scenes of people hammering a door shut to keep out the cold).
It’s the director’s smallest-scaled effort since “Reservoir Dogs,” his first film that could easily work on the stage. It has a traditional play’s pacing and structure, with the focus forever shifting among its principals and with members of the ensemble left to sit there looking on while the others have their major scenes. Plus, there are no real villains to shoot for as everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — has more than enough baggage to keep them on the unlikable list.
However, the unintentionally hilarious butchery of the final reel is quite nasty, of course, but nevertheless satisfying in its overall pointlessness and its a comeuppance free-for-all. It’s also unshackled from that awful “Inglourious Basterds” sense that we’re meant to believe that over-the-top movie violence might right history (remember that fantasy where a tiny group of American Jewish soldiers wipes out Nazi Germany?). Too many people buy that already, so it’s a relief that this bloodbath, while disgusting, is basically contained. The Hateful Eight is at once ingratiating, and then hilariously mean, while the body count adds up.
Like a cinematic Donald Trump, Tarantino revels in the unforgiving violence and political incorrectness of The Hateful Eight, and is so fatalistic in the world view he is presenting that it feels as though he is egging his critics (and supporters) on. Most will view it with a jaded eye because of his other works, but others will respect the daring (although over-the-top at times dialogue), the “purist” filming of the project in Ultra Panavision 70 (a format that hasn’t been employed in some 50 years) and the respectful hiring of Ennio Morricone, the man whose most famous score for the iconic “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is now synonymous with the western.