Director Quentin Tarantino makes his return with The Hateful Eight, his eight picture, one that sees him look back towards a bygone era. A time where a trip to the cinema included a pre-show overture as well as an intermission. He is outspoken about his love for shooting in film, one of the format’s last true advocates in the digital age (along with Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan), which he proved by shooting The Hateful Eight on the rarely used, but still beloved Ultra Panavision 70 format, with a wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio. He isn’t just trying to revive the film format, but the cinematic experience as a whole. Select theaters in cities across the United States will show the film in Roadshow version, running freely at 187 minutes, including a collectible program, and yes, an overture and intermission. All you’re missing is a well-dressed usher to take you to your seat.
Post overture, The Hateful Eight begins with its scene set in Wyoming, as an unforgiving blizzard is brewing. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is desperate for a ride, stuck with two fresh bounties he just shot down. Lucky for him, he encounters the six-horse stagecoach of bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), along with his soon-to-be-hanged prisoner-in-chains, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth isn’t the trusting type (as stated by the stagecoach driver O.B. Jackson, played by James Parks), but Ruth gives him a ride due to his respect for a fellow bounty man.
Not too far down the road they come across another desperate stranded man named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). He just happens to be the soon-to-be new sheriff of Red Rock, the town where both of the hunters’ bounties will be collected. The storm pushes down their backs, forcing them to make a stop at the old-school watering hole, Minnie’s Haberdashery.
Greeting them upon arrival isn’t Minnie, but rather a man named Bob (Demian Bichir) who claims to be watching the place in their absence. The storm has caused a full house at Minnie’s, full of a mysterious group of colorful characters. There’s British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), former Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), and a silent cowboy named Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). Ruth doesn’t trust any of them for a second – sure as hell that one, if not all of them, are working in cahoots to break Domergue free. Warren isn’t so trusting either, confused at the sudden absence of Minnie, not believing for a second that Bob is supposed to be in charge.
Tarantino sets it all up like a playwright, full of the dense and juicy scene-chewing dialogue that we’ve come to expect. The film is a Western in spirit, although it takes place in only two confined spaces: the stagecoach and the haberdashery. The racist beliefs of Confederates Smithers and Mannix stir the pot all too easily with Major Warren, both a famous ex-Union fighter as well as an African American. Minnie’s is anything but cozy.
Tension is built at a leisurely pace, allowing it to build and build, until it’s ready to collapse on you with its ungodly weight. His dialogue allows each character to shine, and for the distrust to build. And when the weight finally collapses, Tarantino graciously switches gears to a gun-slinging violent slaughterhouse flick.
A script from Tarantino can make any actor look great, but with a cast like this, it truly does produce amazing results. Jackson, practically a spirit animal of Tarantino’s at this point, is a magnetic force, tough and funny, running the show with ease. He is award worthy, but maybe not as much as the gritty performance of Jennifer Jason Leigh who taps into the repulsive Daisy Domergue like a chameleon. While Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen and Demian Bichir all have equal moments to shine, it’s Walton Goggins who steals the whole damn show from all of them. Every line out of him is gold, and his transformation across the film is one of the clear highlights. Leigh is getting all the awards talk – and rightfully so – and I hope Goggins can gain some momentum as well.
Shot on film by cinematographer Robert Richardson, the film looks absolutely beautiful, channeling the beauty of both the bristling snow as well as the inside of the tight cozy space that is Minnie’s. The same can be said for the work of costume designer Courtney Hoffman and production designer Yohei Taneda. Equally fitting is the haunting score from 87-year-old Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Every scene is passionately crafted by Tarantino, and it all looks magnificently authentic.
The Hateful Eight may be his most violent film to date, while also his funniest. It’s probably no coincidence, as he has made a film that’s just as much a passion project as it is a testament to his fine abilities as a filmmaker. He’s firing on all cylinders here, delivering an impressive work that fans of his will love, and those who can’t stand him will continue to hate. He doesn’t care, just as long as you catch one of the 70mm Roadshow showings, as you damn well should.