The Hateful Eight (2015) The Weinstein Company/Western-Action RT: 187 minutes (roadshow)/167 minutes (digital) Rated R (strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language, racial epithets, some graphic nudity) Director: Quentin Tarantino Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino Music: Ennio Morricone Cinematography: Robert Richardson Release date: December 25, 2015 (US, limited)/January 1, 2016 (US, wide) Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum, Zoe Bell, Lee Horsley, Dana Gourrier, Gene Jones, Keith Jefferson, Belinda Owino, Craig Stark, Quentin Tarantino (narrator).
Rating: Roadshow version:
At one point in The Hateful Eight, the eighth movie from writer-director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained), a character says, “One of them fellas is not what he says he is.” He’s referring to the seven other people taking shelter in a Wyoming cabin from a raging blizzard. You could say that The Hateful Eight is a large-scale retake on Tarantino’s startling debut Reservoir Dogs with cowboys and bounty hunters instead of jewel thieves. In the 1992 film, set almost entirely in an abandoned warehouse, the gang that just pulled a deadly diamond heist tries to figure out who among them is an undercover cop. In The Hateful Eight, set almost entirely in a stagecoach lodge, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell, The Thing) suspects that one (or more) of his fellow lodgers is in cahoots with his prisoner, the murderer Daisy Domergue (Leigh, Single White Female).
As a huge fan of Tarantino, I had high expectations for The Hateful Eight, the first movie to be filmed in 70mm in more than 20 years, the last one being Ron Howard’s Far and Away (1992). It was high on my Most Anticipated list. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. Whereas Django Unchained was QT’s love letter to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s; The Hateful Eight is a compendium of different genres. It’s primarily a western, but it’s also a drawing room mystery of sorts with another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson, Pulp Fiction), playing sleuth to deduce which lodger(s) committed murder in trying to help Daisy escape. It also has the same claustrophobic vibe of John Carpenter’s The Thing with how it’s set in an isolated, snow-covered location; in this instance, the mountains of Wyoming. It lends The Hateful Eight a strong feeling of dread and doom as the story reaches its bloody conclusion.
I’ve pretty much given you an idea of the plot, now allow me to elaborate. Warren hitches a ride with Ruth who’s taking his prisoner Daisy to the town of Red Rock for her date with the hangman. He has every intention of collecting the $10,000 bounty on her head and is distrustful of everybody. They pick up another passenger, Chris Mannix (Goggins, Django Unchained), on the way to take shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery ahead of a powerful blizzard. Mannix, a member of a renegade Confederate gang during the Civil War, claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock and that it would be in both men’s interests not to deny him a ride. When they arrive at the lodge, they find they’re not alone. Bob aka “The Mexican” (Bichir, Machete Kills) greets them, explaining that the owner left him in charge while she visits her mother. Also on the scene are Oswaldo Mobray (Roth, Reservoir Dogs), an effete English guy who identifying himself as the hangman; Joe Gage (Madsen, Reservoir Dogs), a cow puncher on his way to visit family outside of Red Rock and Sanford Smithers (Dern, Coming Home), a Confederate general. And there you have it, your despicable octet.
The Hateful Eight is being released in two versions: (1) the 70mm roadshow release complete with an overture and 12-minute intermission and (2) a digital version for general release. I’ve seen both versions and definitely prefer the former. The widescreen shots of the snowy Wyoming landscapes are breathtaking. However, most of it takes place indoors, making Tarantino’s use of Ultra Panavision 70mm a curious artistic decision. But hey, this is Quentin Tarantino we’re talking about here, you have to expect some serious self-indulgency. For the most part, The Hateful Eight works. My only real complaint is that it tends to get too talky. Fortunately, QT has a way with dialogue. Even without the pop culture references so prevalent in his contemporary-set films, he still manages to keep the viewer hanging on every word. This time, however, it’s a bit too dialogue-heavy; you just want QT to get to the good stuff which he does right before the intermission at about the 1:40 mark. The second act of The Hateful Eight is a total bloodbath. Heads literally get blown off. There’s a good reason why makeup artist Gregory Nicotero receives prominent billing in the closing credits. I won’t tell you what happens, but it’s cool.
Much has been made of QT’s overuse of the n-word in his movies and it does get thrown around a lot in The Hateful Eight. It’s important to keep in mind that it takes places just a few years after the Civil War and the Confederates are still sore about slavery being abolished. Mannix is already predisposed to hate Warren, but it’s made worse by Warren’s actions during the war, namely killing a lot of Southerners while in the Cavalry (and after). It’s only natural for his character to use derogatory terms when referring to a person of color. What I’m saying is that there’s historical context for use of the n-word; it’s not like QT is saying it just to say it.
The score by Ennio Morricone is terrific as usual. It’s the first time he’s scored a western in more than three decades and he hasn’t lost his touch. Tarantino does cheat a little though. One early scene features “Regan’s Theme” from Exorcist II: The Heretic. He also uses three unused tracks from The Thing (“Eternity”, “Bestiality” and “Despair”). Still, it’s Morricone and that’s good enough for me. In my opinion, he’s the greatest film composer EVER! His music is transcendent. The cinematography by Robert Richardson is awesome! This is especially evident in the 70mm version and not just in the exterior shots. It also adds scope to the interior scenes; underscoring the lodge as a microcosm representative of the political and racial divide in latter 19th century USA. It’s because of this that I give the roadshow version of The Hateful Eight a slightly higher rating.
The acting is also quite good. A mustachioed Russell (fresh off another bloody western, Bone Tomahawk) once again delivers a solid performance, sounding like a cross between John Wayne and Jack Burton (his character from Big Trouble in Little China). Jackson is equally great in the lead portraying a character far from heroic, especially when describing what he did to one fellow seeking the $5000 bounty placed on his head by the Confederacy. Leigh plays the murderous Daisy with devilish glee, taking the punches and elbows delivered by Ruth like a trooper. Really, the whole cast of The Hateful Eight does a great job. QT has a knack for casting his movies; he consistently puts the right actors in the right parts. It’s a very good movie, but it’s not one of Tarantino’s best. Like I said, it tends to be too talky making the film feel a bit overlong. I never said The Hateful Eight is perfect. It’s damn good though and totally worth the price of admission.