By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Quentin Tarantino remains one of the most brilliant storytellers of our time. This is especially true with his eighth film, The Hateful Eight. His unbridled passion for his craft, the saga he is weaving and the respect for the patience, maturity and intelligence of his audience is ever-present here. It also gives him a pulpit to take uncountable risks. For example, Tarantino fills our ears with his endlessly engaging, beautifully written and snappy, often oddly poetic, dialogue. In this duration there is not a single shot fired, rarely an instant of action in its most accepted respect, until one hundred and one minutes in. Despite this, the threat of violence is always present. This adds various layers of gradually building intrigue and suspense to the banter. The set-up becomes akin to a bomb that we know will explode at any moment. The question is simply when this will occur. Such provides further proof that his Best Original Screenplay win for Django Unchained in 2012 was certainly merited. This makes the proceedings unfold in the manner of a great novel: confident, bold and meticulously mounted. It is also further testament to how well-orchestrated Tarantino’s writing, direction and narrative remain throughout.
Such a large portion of the runtime, dictated on-screen as the first three ‘chapters’, gets us to intimately know the motivations, the backstory and singular personages of each individual. Few directors could pull off the feat of entertaining us as much with mere speech, especially when most features are content to give audiences exactly what they expect as soon as they sit down in the theater, in such grand fashion. It all leads to a twist-filled, irony laced and inevitably brutal succession of segments which pose well over the last hour of the endeavor. This climactic bit is just as amusing as what came before it for wholly new reasons.
There is not a moment in its one hundred and sixty-seven minutes (with the exclusive 70 millimeter roadside shows running one hundred and eighty-seven minutes and including a musical overture and intermission to add to its wonderfully vintage impression) where we are not purely entertained. Whether this arises from Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography (which takes full advantage of the natural beauty of the many moments illustrating snowfall to alluring effect), Fred Raskin’s proficient editing or Ennio Morricone’s appropriately tense and haunting score this attribute is undeniable. But, the trait that lingers with the audience the longest is the vividly developed, darkly charismatic, compulsively watchable characters themselves. These title individuals are all despicable in their own right. There is no false advertising here. Despite this, the performances are all so incredible (Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, Kurt Russell as the bounty hunter, John Ruth, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the prisoner, Daisy Domergue, are especially astonishing) that we find ourselves enraptured, even caring, for at least a handful of these brash beings in some way. These personalities, as well as the piece itself, is sheer Tarantino. These elements provide further proof that he is a maestro performing at the height of his talent.
Another successful endeavor in risk- taking unveiled here is setting approximately 4/5 of this three hour epic inside the cramped confines of Minnie’s Habadashery. At first glance the setting seems quaint and sparse. It would give even the most imaginative of directors little to do after the hour and a half marker. This is when most productions, particularly the plethora of low budget horror exertions which take place in a single setting, would gracefully bow out. Yet, with Tarantino at the wheel the movie is far from long enough. Here he spins and erects one fresh idea after another. This is done to keep our interest continually blooming to new peaks. Most astonishingly, he finds ways to build up tension from everyday elements. Often this manifests itself in the form of a chair or a cup.
As this small setting becomes the stage for this post- Civil-War narrative, we find the eight assembling in this claustrophobic expanse after a fantastically done and riveting half hour long sequence exhibiting travel via stagecoach. This early bit immediately captures our attention. Moreover, it also sets the tone for the dialogue heavy emphasis of much of the picture.
Afterwards we find Ruth, alongside Warren, continuing his mission to bring Domergue to Red Rock’s hangman, who happens to be on the premises in the form of Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), is thrown off course by the wintry weather and the stay. The slimy self-proclaimed sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who we also meet during this aforementioned opening segment, finds himself in the same situation. Here we meet Bob (Damien Bichir), who claims to be watching the place for Minnie. We are also introduced to the confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and the “cowboy” Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). Soon secrets are revealed, prejudices rise and these individuals turn on one another.
Tarantino adds elements of mystery, action, bloodshed, dismemberment and drama to this far from traditional take on the western. It makes this genre stew all the more varied, unpredictable and savory as we watch it unravel. The secondary cast, mostly seen in flashback, of Sweet Dave (Gene Jones), the unusually upbeat Six-Horse Judy (Zoe Bell), and Jody (Channing Tatum) all add to this blend. This is done with tremendously rich performances. Furthermore, it is enhanced with characters that are all much their own entity.
The Hateful Eight is pure genius. It is a movie for movie lovers made by a man whose admiration for this particular venue pulsates through its every tremendously realized frame. Many may be put off by the effort’s almost blasé attitude toward contemporary ideologies of pace, characterization and its sheer length. But, this is what makes Tarantino and his compositions, especially this one, so special. When you purchase a ticket to a Tarantino feature it is the unknown, not the mechanisms of a mainstream product, which make his work a continual marvel; a vigorous breath of innovative fresh air to sit through. It is also the necessary reminder we all need of why so many have such an endlessly admiration and fascination with this particular creative form. Moreover, it recalls a motion picture’s ability to transport its audience to another time and place and to be enraptured in a great, well-told account. This is another sign of Tarantino as a true artist. The fact that reviews of this misunderstood masterpiece have been so largely divided only confirm this. Give Tarantino the Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture awards immediately. He sure has earned it. This is cinema at its finest.