Every three or four years a Quentin Tarantino movie is released and every three or four years people forget what a Quentin Tarantino movie is. General complaints in the theater I screened Tarantino’s latest were that it was really “heavy on dialogue” and featured the “n-word”. Interesting that people would be surprised a movie taking place a couple years after the Civil War featuring Samuel L. Jackson waving a gun in the face of an ex-Confederate General would feature the ‘n-word.’ It was funny to me because I remembered when I saw Django Unchained Christmas night three years ago, a large middle-aged woman was roaming outside the theater, screaming and crying, “I came here to see a fuckin’ Jamie Foxx movie, what the fuck kind of nasty ass shit was that?!” The Hateful Eight has all the fixin’s ya’ll come to ‘spect from a Tarantino feature — a surplus of beautifully rendered characters and dialogue laced with the most grotesque of profanities, racial and social tension and plenty of graphic violence. The only difference is that here, the violence is rarely a punchline. Not since the director’s debut Reservoir Dogs has a film of his felt so unsettling and sinister. Tarantino has made a movie about racism, gun violence and not being able to trust anyone, perhaps his most socially relevant and upsetting.
Structured more like a stage play than a film, the film only features fifteen characters or so, with only eight leads. There’s a blizzard coming, and Bounty Hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) must transport his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to hang. Along the way they pick up a black Union Major (Samuel L. Jackson) and an incredibly racist and stupid Sheriff (Walton Goggins). Unfortunately, they can’t outrun the blizzard for long so they must stop and camp out at a haberdashery for a couple days. There, they meet a grumpy Confederate General (Bruce Dern), a cowboy (Michael Madsen), an actual hangman (Tim Roth) and a Mexican (Demian Bichir). As the storm intensifies, their mistrust for each other intensify. Oh, and Channing Tatum shows up.
A lot of people were upset in the theater because unlike Tarantino’s other features (with the exception of the criminally underrated Jackie Brown), The Hateful Eight is a slow burn. In fact, for the first two hours, the film is mostly dialogue. Incredibly entertaining dialogue that wonderfully builds eight wholly three-dimensional characters. However, most audience members will only see it as “a lot of talking.” It seemed like everyone was just on the edge of their seats waiting for a character to get their head blown off. Perhaps that gleeful anticipation of carnage speaks more about gun culture in America than a film about eight armed sociopaths locked in a room together. If there’s one complaint I had about the film, and it’s a big one, it’s Tarantino’s voice-over narration. It sounds like a DVD commentary and completely took me out of the story. It only appears for a brief while after the intermission, but it damn near ruins a fantastic sequence in the beginning of Act 2 for me.
From a technical standpoint, The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s most impressive work. The 70mm presentation looks absolutely amazing, from the beautiful wide landscape shots to the gargantuan close-ups. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is on-point and Ennio Morricone’s score is haunting. The performances are all fantastic with Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson giving their finest performances in years as the closest thing the film has to protagonists. Jennifer Jason Leigh is getting the lion’s share of attention, but the real MVP is brilliant character actor Walton Goggins. As the ignorant Sheriff Chris Mannix, Goggins is simultaneously repulsive, hilarious and even sympathetic. This is not to say that Jennifer Jason Leigh is chopped liver. As the unbelievably vile Daisy Domergue, she delivers her best performance since the 90s. She’s absolutely frightening and with the exception of Goggins, delivers the best performance of the film by a mile. Rounding out the cast are Dern, Roth, Madsen and Bichir, all perfect in their roles. The only actor who seems out of place is Channing Tatum who seems to be playing Channing Tatum. He’s passable in other films, but standing next to these eight actors he’s noticeably Channing Tatum.
When the dust and blood settles in The Hateful Eight you’re left with more of a sense of dread than pure adrenaline. The film opens with a shot of a wooden cross depicting the crucifixion getting pummeled by falling snow of the impending blizzard. Perhaps this is to signify that a nation built more or less under the blanket of Christianity (forgiveness, humility, ect.) is ironically ripping itself to shreds over the prospect of monetary gain. Or maybe, The Hateful Eight is merely an aggressively cynical Western. Either way, it’s well worth your time and money if you have the stomach for it. Grade: A-