Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir
Plot: John Ruth (Russell) is a famous bounty hunter, escorting dangerous criminal Daisy Domergue (Leigh) to the Hangman, when a blizzard and six other strangers cause problems.
Quentin Tarantino is the kind of director who has found himself in a position few directors have the pleasure of having. He is so established for thinking outside the box, directing his film’s themes and tones back to earlier styles of cinema and consistently delivering entertaining works that audiences have far more patience with him than most other directors. Michael Bay has done far more films than Tarantino, but seems to be on a film by film probation in terms of likeability. M. Night Shyamalan is one film away from being deemed as useless. Tarantino seems free of the pressure of critical glare, and as a result, his films seem a honest, personal extension of himself, free of the constraints of what cinema ‘should’ be.
However, moving onto the Hateful Eight, specifically. It opens with two bounty hunters, crossing paths as a dangerous blizzard rushes down on them. Samuel L. Jackson is Major Marquis Warren, a former Civil War soldier who has turned to bounty hunting. While transporting three dead bodies to the nearest village, Red Rock, to collect his latest bounty, his horse died in the cold. Luckily, he stumbles across a stagecoach, transporting John Ruth, another famous bounty hunter, dubbed The Hangman, because he always brings his prisoners in alive. With John Ruth is his own prisoner, Daisy Domergue, considered dangerous for reasons unknown to the audience, worth ten thousand dollars. Ruth is reluctant to let Warren travel with them, wary of another bounty hunter attempting to take his prize, but gives in. Along the way, they end up picking up Chris Mannix, a former militiaman who claims to be the newly appointed Sheriff of Red Rock, a man whom Ruth severely mistrusts and someone whose army used to hunt Warren in the following few years after the Civil War. The four of them strike up an uneasy bond and settle down for a few days in an inn to wait out the blizzard. However, the friendly owners are missing and in their place are temporary innkeeper, Mexican Bob, a travelling hangman, Oswaldo Mobrey, a Confederate general, Sanders, and a quiet cowboy, Joe Gage, who claims to be visiting his mother just outside of Red Rock. John Ruth believes that one of them is working with Domergue to free her and the eight of them settle down for a mistrustful few days, sleeping with one eye open.
It is a very interesting set-up and not just for its colourful characters, whom we shall get onto in a moment. What really intrigues me about Hateful Eight is the closed setting. It harkens back to Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, where the entire movie took place in a single set and just showed the different characters riffing off of each other. The Hateful Eight feels like Tarantino has gone away from that movie, hit his rhythm as a director and returned to the simple setting of his original piece. Not that this is a remake. No, not at all. We are give eight superbly original characters, helmed by actors that Tarantino knows how to squeeze the most out of. The fun comes in the chemistry and blends of characters. The Confederate general has an intense hatred for black Southerners, something which Samuel L. Jackson exploits fantastically. Mexican Bob’s story about how he came to mind the inn barely adds up. Joe Gage is reserved and quiet, not wanting to share any details about himself. Perhaps the most interesting relationship is one between prisoner and captor. John Ruth’s relationship with Daisy Domergue is fascinating. On one hand, he treats her like a piece of dirt, beating her for speaking out of place and telling everyone that she is a mean bastard. Tarantino puts his single female character through the grindhouse, something which has feminists scratching their heads with bemusement. Is her abuse female objectification or is this finally equality between the male and female characters? Leave the politics at the door however, and you can get some surprisingly dark comic value out of the casual abuse that the character receives. You might accidentally end up rooting for her, even if the characters desperately try and convince you that she is the nastiest one out of them all. On the other hand, though, there is almost a caring nature between the two of them. Ruth fetches her meals and coffee, compliments her guitar playing skills and there is a sense in Daisy being so blatantly a villain, whereas everyone else is only probably a bad guy, she becomes the one person in the room he can fully trust.
Story wise, it almost turns into a gripping murder mystery. The air is thick with burning questions and Tarantino takes his time to slowly answer them. A few of them he doesn’t answer at all, which brilliantly throws up different readings into what actually happened. The mystery side of things strongly helps the audience deal with the slow-burning nature of Tarantino’s movies. While Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds arguably went too far down the dialogue route, with The Hateful Eight, the characters are so gripping that the only time you really check your watch is the stagecoach trip to the inn, before the stakes are truly raised. But it becomes just too hard to criticise waiting your way for two major reasons. One: the performances are never anything less than amazing. Samuel L. Jackson and Tarantino continue to be a strong partnership, one rip-roaring monologue excellently executed with Jackson relishing the chance to move away from the stereotype he has gotten himself. However, while Jackson is most likely to steal fan favourite (unless you pick up a soft spot for Domergue or are just too charmed by Russell’s grizzly bounty hunter), there isn’t a weak cast member there, even if a few of them could have done with a little more fleshing out. One sour note is that the character roster isn’t as balanced as Reservoir Dogs. However, the second and most important reason, we do not mind the wait in Tarantino films is that, never, has the man ever let us down. We know the pay-off will always be worth it. And yes, it really is, with a shocking amount of twists lying in wait, a startling amount of gore and shock deaths aplenty. The film rocks to a close and you are left breathless. Tarantino has done it again.
Final Verdict: The Hateful Eight pleasantly harkens back to Tarantino’s earlier days, but with a gripping Western mystery story with a brilliant pay-off at the end.