The cinematically deranged Quentin Tarantino once again brings the wild back to the west. If you’ve you seen his wacky western Django Unchained (which you probably have or else you wouldn’t be reading this review, unless you’re my mom), then you know Tarantino’s West is like no other. It’s wild, it’s filthy, it’s dangerous, it’s hilarious, it’s bloody as hell, and it strays from the western norm. In Unchained, a Tupac mashup with James Brown supplies the music for the big bang finale — nobody can get away with that but Tarantino. Nobody. That’s the beauty of a Tarantino movie — you never know what the hell you’re getting yourself into. He has a big bag full of tricks. The Hateful Eight is no less batty than the rest of his catalogue, and is, in fact, just as glorious.
The Hateful Eight‘s story seems simple on the surface, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath is arrogance, madness, and death. Bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is escorting criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a lethal scene-stealing supporting role) by stagecoach to Red Rock, where she’ll be hanged by the neck until she is dead, dead, dead for being a ruthless, cold-blooded killer. John Ruth is called The Hangman because he is a bounty hunter who doesn’t shoot his criminals to death, that’s too quick and easy; he likes to watch them hang until their neck breaks or their eyes become hollow.
It’s snowing outside, and Hangman hired a stagecoach driver (Tarantino now-regular and Michael Parks’ son, James Parks) to get them to Red Rock before a massive blizzard catches up to them.
On the journey, he bumps into Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson in one of his best roles to date), a former fighter for the North-turned-bounty hunter. Warren is famous for two things: burning down a jail cell with a bunch of white folks in it and having a letter written by Abraham Lincoln himself (which he holds close to the chest).
We are not sure of when the film takes place, but we do know that it’s a few years after the Civil War. The “N” word isn’t cool to use anymore but racial tension is still high, and since it’s a Tarantino film, he finds a humorous way to fit the word into the film. (Perhaps as a big "fuck you" to Spike Lee and all the others who give him trouble for using it so much in Django Unchained, a film that took place when that word was said daily on every plantation.)
Warren, with a pile of dead, wanted men, hitches a ride with Hangman and his prisoner to Red Rock to collect his bounty. After some attractive dialogue exchange and hilarious moments, they pick up another straggler, the alleged new sheriff for Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, who also gives a fascinating and spectacular supporting performance), whose horse also gave out in the snow trying to get giddyup to Red Rock. After he’s welcomed aboard, off to Red Rock they go.
Losing the battle to beat the blizzard to Red Rock, their course is altered, and they end up at Minnie’s Haberdashery. The plan: have a few drinks and hang around until the blizzard passes. But this is a Tarantino film, so fate has other mischievous plans for this possibly fortuitous situation.
Also killing time at the haberdashery is Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth, doing his best Christoph Waltz impersonation that’s undoubtedly on purpose — it would have been better just to cast Waltz but I’m sure he’s burned out on Tarantino roles and winning Oscars), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), General Sandy Smithers (the great Bruce Dern), and Bob (Demian Bichir). Now, my friends, you have met all of the hateful eight.
The Hateful Eight is a more conventional western, not as wacky as Django Unchained, but it’s everything you want from a Tarantino movie: high tension, deft and intuitive dialogue, and sudden, grisly violence. He’s also becoming more stable at throwing you completely off. The Hateful Eight is like a hip session of the board-game, Clue. Something isn’t right, and Warren knows something fishy is going on; but hold onto your horses, partner, right when you think you’ve figured it all out, Tarantino empties his big bag of tricks.
I’m going to stop there with plot details because this is a Tarantino film and there’s a hell of a lot more to it, and this review is already too long. Plus, I’m not going to be the fool who ruins the surprises for you.
It’s known Tarantino is a maestro at reviving careers and picking the right people for the role. One of the greatest casting decisions he’s ever made in his career was putting Jennifer Jason Leigh in this film as Daisy Domergue. She’s a scene-stealing maniac who shows us a side of her we’ve never seen before. Her Daisy is unhinged, complex, and completely insane. Tarantino’s films have never had a female antagonist (well, except for Kill Bill, which is a whole team consisting of three women and two men) and now he finally has his first female Basterd with comparable screen time to the other villains in the Tarantino universe. And Leigh chews up the screen. Nah, she devours it whole. This movie belongs to her. She’s a foul-mouthed muskrat in a brute, filthy man’s body. She’s sporting a black eye that Hangman gave her and every time he — or someone else — knocks her around, she doesn’t wince once in pain. She can take a punch better than most people you’ve seen on screen. Daisy is a real asshole who relishes in her punishment and pain. The best way to put it: she is a real badass.
Something peculiar that caught me eye was the opening shot of the film. It’s a wooden statue of Jesus on the cross covered in ice. The ice on his head is shaped like a KKK mask, and the film takes place not so long after the civil war. Coincidence? I think not. Tarantino is very meticulous and that shot was there for a reason.
My best guess is because lots of former slave-owning white folks are pissed they lost the war and still have that burning desire to punish African Americans, and even more since it’s now illegal. Remember what I told you, the “N” word is still used, but this time in a very comical way.
Every Tarantinoian© knows he’s a huge dork. He wanted to make Kill Bill into one long movie with an intermission but didn’t have enough clout then, but here he got his way. The Hateful Eight‘s running time is 167 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. It’s great for people with a small bladder and have to pee a lot, but this is a bold and possibly very bad move because once the average moviegoer learns of the running time, they may pass or walk out wanting a refund. Tarantino’s movies have made more money with each release, but this could be the one that backfires for being way too damn long. We will know soon.
What supports the above detractor of The Hateful Eight is that it’s very slow and takes some patience for the payoff. “Let’s slow this wayyyyy down,” Warren says while telling a story that will blow your mind; another character mentions patience too. I believe this is a little wink at the audience. Tarantino knows his film is long, but just wants us to wait patiently because he knows it’s worth it (and it is).
One thing is for certain: Tarantino is bringing back the western genre in whole new uncommon ways. (I can’t help but think that Monte Hellman would love this acid western.) Aside from his Django Unchained, I haven’t seen a western that was such a blast to watch since Kim Jee-woon’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird. There are more solid westerns that have floated around over the last few years, but none of them compare to the originality, excitement, and creativity as Tarantino’s.
Sure, the long running time makes The Hateful Eight Tarantino’s least accessible film, but if you are tolerant and can sit through the almost unbearable 167-minute tension, the third act will blow you away. This is Tarantino’s western bloodbath opera. He’s still got the goods in him because this Basterds’ work isn’t done.
[Note: This review was first published on Smells Like Screen Spirit.]