The Hateful Eight

Posted by Joel Copling on December 24, 2015

Following the historical revisionism of 2009's best film, "Inglourious Basterds," and 2012's slightly more belabored "Django Unchained," writer/director Quentin Tarantino goes smaller in scope (yet longer in length at 187 minutes, including an intermission) with "The Hateful Eight," the meanest of his trilogy of Westerns. Much like the others, this is not a traditional Western, though, opting to simply adopt the tone of the genre while moving in far more interesting and exciting directions with his characters. The kicker is the setting: At least ninety percent of the film is set in a single room, which turns out to be a gift for the filmmaker, cinematographer Robert Richardson, and a production design team on fire with their work here.

The set-up is as simple as the appealingly barebones premise: John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter known as "the hangman" for his tendency to lead his quarry through the slow torture of traveling with them to wherever they are to meet their lawful justice, is met by Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), another bounty hunter who is also a former major in the Union Army, on the way to Red Rock while escorting Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a murdering tramp whose bounty is a whole ten thousand dollars. They also pick up Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), Red Rock's incumbent sheriff.

Their trip takes them to Minnie's Haberdasherie, a stopover wherein four others are stowed away to protect themselves from an impending blizzard over the Wyoming landscape that surrounds their place of refuge. There is Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a Brit who just happens to be the hangman from Red Rock. Accompanying him is Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate general who does not take kindly to Warren's eventual presence for overtly racist reasons, and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), perhaps the most mysterious presence here. Bob (Demian Bichir), meanwhile, has taken over command of Minnie's (Dana Gourrier) store while the owner visits her sick mother.

Nothing, however, is as it seems in a film that pays loving homage to Agatha Christie in both its confined setting and its establishment of a baffling scenario that depends on complex character interplay to work. Tarantino has intimidating control of this, which means that his tendency to let characters talk (and talk and then talk some more) works rather brilliantly to the film's advantage. These conversations are fascinating, too, confronting the violent prejudice that exists very recently in Warren's past (such as a discussion between him and Smithers that waits patiently before opening up hostilities, framing a chess board as a symbol for what separates them and what defines their past) and finding out, in the second half, who might want to commit mass homicide.

This is, too, an ensemble piece, and all of the actors are phenomenal. Jackson's performance as Warren twists into detective mode by the second half, and the actor's credence as a person always curious about which pieces fit where is palpable. Russell channels John Wayne without merely impersonating him as Ruth. Roth and Goggins have the most fun with their characters' tics (one a loftily English accent, the other a tendency toward theatricality). Dern conveys pain and prejudice with ease. Leigh nearly walks away with the film as a woman with a trick up her sleeve. Bichir and Madsen smartly play things close to the chest. This is one deep cast.

Some of the central and, eventually, secondary mystery fades away as the final chapter of eight simplifies everything to some extreme violence, but it's irrelevant. The intrigue always remains, thanks to Tarantino's sense of depth perception. Aesthetically, the film is resplendent (the harsh winter outside and the burnished lantern light of the inside of the haberdasherie a perfect match to the film's 70mm projection in limited markets), and Ennio Morricone's score is surprisingly playful, even as the film turns crueler and more graphically violent (An exploding head is not entirely unsurprising, but the medium close-up is, perhaps, a bit excessive). "The Hateful Eight" bares its teeth at the audience, and what a beast it is.

Film Information

Samuel L. Jackson (Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (John Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue), Demian Bichir (Bob), Michael Madsen (Joe Gage), Walton Goggins (Chris Mannix), Tim Roth (Oswaldo Mobray), Bruce Dern (Confederate General Sandy Smithers), James Parks (O.B. Jackson), Channing Tatum (Jody), Zoe Bell (Six-Horse Judy), Dana Gourrier (Minnie Mink), Lee Horsley (Ed).

Directed and written by Quentin Tarantino.

Rated R (bloody violence, violent sexual content, language, graphic nudity).

187 minutes.

Released in select cities on December 25, 2015.