You could certainly count me as one of the myriad of Quentin Tarantino fan boys. At the very least I can always find something to admire in his films, even if the grander vision never coalesces (see Django Unchained.) But each of his first 7 films has felt like an event, a point on the movie calendar to stand up and take notice. Tarantino, like many of his contemporaries, has honed his craft – dabbling in genre while adding his own stamp to each. Lately he’s been tempted by the western – a genre he claims can tell the most timeless stories. So we have The Hateful Eight – the 8th QT joint and what is surely to be his most divisive.
Quentin has never been a stranger to controversy, in fact he often courts it. His visions force you to reckon with something – always through his very specific worldview and Eight is no different. On a snowy road to the town of Red Rock we meet bounty hunter John “the Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his most recent bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh.) They and their trusty stagecoach driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks) are outpacing an oncoming blizzard but must make good time before they’re overtaken. Sometime through their journey they come across Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) whose post-War career also happens to be bounty hunting and on his way to collect on the heads of three men his transport has gone astray leaving him stranded in the snow.
After an obscenely well written exchange Major Warren is in the stagecoach on the way to Red Rock. The trio add one more on the way by the name of Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock but on the surface is an ignorant, bigoted former Confederate soldier with a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth. After two lengthy delays the now-quartet have been hit headfirst by the blizzard and must take shelter in Minnie’s Haberdashery, 9-miles outside of Red Rock.
Waiting for them are not what they expect. Instead of Minnie, Sweet Dave and her family to warm them up with booze and a warm meal they are greeted by an entirely different bunch. In one corner is Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth,) the hangman in Red Rock. His companions are a quiet cowboy named Joe Gage (Michael Madsen,) Señor Bob (Demian Bichir) and an old Confederate General called Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern.) And almost immediately, someone or something is not as it seems.
Tarantino has set up a classic chamber piece whodunit scenario. One could describe it as a rousing game of Clue with a lot more motherfuckers sprinkled in. The pleasures of this acid-spitting pot boiler are letting the wonderful machinations unfold in front of you because trust me you will not see them coming. If you can, see the roadshow version of Hateful Eight – which, at over 3-hours can be trying but it’s 70MM projection, overture and intermission give the proceedings a chance to wash over while simultaneously bludgeoning you.
And it’s precisely that bludgeoning that took its toll on me. It’s not that it isn’t effective. Tarantino gives each character a fully formed arc and his cast comports themselves wonderfully as usual. But as the second half of the film wears on QT loses focus and his strong, sometimes stunningly powerful themes give way to comical bloodshed.
People may dismiss The Hateful Eight as lesser Tarantino and I suppose that’s fair. It’s by far his least accessible film since Death Proof and makes no excuses for it. People will complain it’s too familiar or navel-gazing, and they won’t be wrong. But what makes him the most influential filmmaker of his generation is this film will not go away. In fact like many of his “lesser” efforts (Jackie Brown, Death Proof) I think it may find exponentially greater power and understanding upon years of reflection. One thing is for certain – The Hateful Eight demands your attention in all its mean-spirited glee.