Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film (QT counts his two Kill Bill volumes as one movie) may mark the filmmaker’s self-indulgent sensibilities reaching a previously inconceivable new high, but despite this and the excessive 168-minute run-time, The Hateful Eight is sure to please the director’s fans; bloody, hilarious and superbly-acted as per usual.
In post-Civil War Wyoming, a bounty hunter by the name of John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is escorting a prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the town of Red Rock, where she is to be hanged for murder. The pair hole up at a mountainside retreat until the harsh blizzard subsides, sharing the floor with a collection of wild characters; a bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), Red Rock’s sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the establishment’s caretaker Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), Red Rock’s hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cattle herder Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and former Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern).
Though it sounds like damning criticism to call this Tarantino’s second-worst film to date (sitting firmly ahead of the black sheep of his filmography that is Death Proof), it’s simply a testament to the strength of so many of his films that even one this enjoyable and captivating isn’t on the higher end of his output.
Tarantino has exchanged the sprawling canvas of his two previous movies for something a little more simplistic, akin to a blood-soaked mystery play rather than an epic thriller, though with actors this spectacular crammed into one room, he naturally has all the gifts he needs to write some terrifically tense scenes, and that he does with his usual singular aplomb.
That said, the sameness of the setting and the repetition of various elements (the constant character re-introductions for one) do wear on as the pic trundles along, with Tarantino seemingly putting his every thought-of quip into the script, which absolutely blunts the replay value of the film given that not everything here is solid gold material.
The first half in particular feels almost prohibitively long at times, from the wordless, 5-minute opening sequence to the sheer amount of time taken to establish these characters and lay the scenario out. When QT gets to turn the screws in the latter 90 minutes, though, the pic picks up significantly, giving Jackson and Goggins in particular some marvelous dialogue to work with, and it’s not much of a spoiler to say that most of the brutal blood-letting takes place in the second half.
Perhaps in this third historical movie the formula just feels all-too familiar, but The Hateful Eight can’t seem to fashion the strong iconography of, say, Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa or Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, despite the fantastic efforts of the cast, cinematographer Robert Richardson and legendary composer Ennio Morricone. It’s the most workmanlike that Tarantino’s direction has felt in a while, though to approach the film on its own terms, it is wildly entertaining and almost hilariously gory. Just don’t expect to be quoting it to your pals as much as you do his other movies, and with such a sauntering pace, you might not be compelled to watch it so frequently.
The Hateful Eight is in US cinemas December 25th (limited) and UK cinemas January 8th