Compared to the enormity of Quentin Tarantino’s most recent projects Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds, the premise of The Hateful Eight seems consciously constrained by comparison. Eight people spending the night in ‘Minnie’s Habedashery’ – a quaint little cabin out in the sticks – to take shelter from a worsening blizzard.
That’s one of the most prominent features of The Hateful Eight; gone are the expansive settings, ensemble casts and show-stealing Christoph Waltz that have featured heavily in Tarantino’s last two epics – although we do see the return of frequent Tarantino crew members Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth.While it’s difficult to apply the word ‘newcomer’ to someone like Kurt Russel, his performance as the grizzled, no-nonsense John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth is a standout. Personally I’ve always associated him with the cheesy (but highly enjoyable) Big Trouble In Little China and other 80’s action flicks, but his mature turn as the aggressive cowboy statesman leaves a lasting impression.
Ruth is on his way to Red Rock, escorting wanted murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the hangman’s noose despite her being wanted ‘dead or alive’. On the way he picks up a bounty hunter and veteran of the recently-ended American Civil War (Jackson) as well as the alleged new sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Goggins). What you learn from their original exchanges on the road to the cabin, and their interactions with the people already inside, is that they all seem to have something to hide from each other and a blatant distrust of the person sitting next to them. This serves as an undercurrent for the rest of the film, and only amplifies as we get to know the cabin’s other inhabitants and the circle of distrust grows.
The tale becomes less of a typical Tarantino action flick and more of a suspenseful whodunit as the story progresses, but it still contains a plethora of trademark over-the-top gore and violence, almost comparable in style to the Kill Bill films. Unlike that duo the violence is far less frequent and, like the story, slowly builds up towards the crescendo instead of being intentionally overused.
With such limited settings (the coach ride and the cabin) and such a small cast, the three hour run-time might not appeal to the instant gratification generation, and there’s no disputing that The Hateful Eight, while well constructed, is a slow burner. Rest assured that it’s well paced and ramps up at just the right times to keep those who choose to engage compelled until the end. The final stretch flies by as it answers all the questions and speculation that arise throughout the rest of the film.
Once again Tarantino shows his talent for writing dialogue, as many of the ensemble take turns engaging in long-winded conversations and stories about themselves, their respective pasts and their possible connections to each other that still keep you engaged. You begin with an earnest trust of Ruth and his situation as it’s the first that we’re thrust into, but by the end you’re questioning practically every word that comes out of each character’s mouth, and you’re left trying to guess who’s lying (or who isn’t) and how that’s going to affect the final outcome.
In size and scope (and even the casting and dialogue), this is probably the closest Tarantino has come to the 1992 hit Reservoir Dogs, but it also shows how far he’s come in terms of both cinematography and script writing with shades of his other projects throughout. The pacing and visual style are excellent and the script is delivered well by strong performances all around.
I can’t help thinking that The Hateful Eight won’t be as widely acclaimed as Tarantino’s previous efforts, and much of the attention it deserves will be diverted by the likes of Star Wars. While the narrative and style are far less wide-ranging and ambitious than Tarantino’s last few ventures, The Hateful Eight is inarguably a superb demonstration of storytelling through film. 8.5/10