The Hateful Eight, much like it’s oddly brilliant writer/director, is a hard film to pin down. Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature film finds the firebrand auteur scaling things down in terms of scope from his last two projects, yet filming in ultra huge 70mm and delving even further into the wacky eccentricities that have come to define Tarantino’s unique cinematic universe. No matter where you land on the Tarantino fanboy scale, it’s hard to deny that The Hateful Eight is a visually stunning film to behold [especially if you see the film’s 70mm roadshow presentation] and wildly intense.
Set during a blizzard in post-Civil War Wyoming, The Hateful Eight is a claustrophobic mystery film, packed with historical [and allusions to present day] racial tensions, graphic violence and some of Tarantino’s zanniest dialogue to date. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Major Marquis Warren, a former Union solider turned bounty hunter marooned during a snow storm. Warren hitches a ride with a fellow bounty hunter named John “The Hangman” Ruth [Kurt Russell] and his murderous captive Daisy [Jennifer Jason Leigh], and strikes a uneasy alliance with Ruth after they take refuge from the storm at a remote mountain lodge and become trapped in close quarters with a group dangerous figures. Unlike the sprawling scope of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s most subdued movie since his 1992 debut, Reservoir Dogs. Both movies feature a bunch of strangely charming no-goodniks trapped in confined spaces, questioning each others motives before throwing down in a bloody Mexican standoff. The Reservoir Dogs connection goes even further, as Tarantino casts Tim Roth and Michael Madsen [Mr. Orange and Mr. Blonde] once again, and just like his debut film, The Hateful Eight ends with two prominent characters bonding in a pool of blood.
Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography and Ennio Morricone’s masterful score help the director create the cold and paranoid atmosphere that permeates every frame of The Hateful Eight and serves as some of the finest world building of Tarantino’s career. The 70mm print is massive and captures the grimiest of details, while the script is even more verbose than usual and feels more akin to a stage play than a Hollywood motion picture. The plot’s tight quarters and epic wordplay/details makes The Hateful Eight seem larger than life and helps ground the film in something that many feel has been lacking from Tarantino’s recent pictures: realism. Ever since Kill Bill, Tarantino has gone out of his way to write his name in crayon across his films in giant colorful letters. This works in pulpy genre flicks like Death Proof, but can hurt the tone of quasi-drama’s like Django Unchained. Part of Tarantino’s charm is his exuberance and no fucks given attitude, but after spending the last fifteen years shooting ninja assassins, Nazi hunters and old west vigilantes, how great would it be if Tarantino focused on regular humans like the ones from his first three films again? There are moments when The Hateful Eight feels like those “real” films of his early career, but then an exploding head or over indulgent use of the N-word snaps us back into the animated pocket universe of Tarantino-land. In 1992, Harvey Keitel launched into the following rant as Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs:
Toby Wong. Toby Chung? Fucking Charlie Chan. I got Madonna’s big dick coming out of my left ear, and Toby the Jap… I don’t know what, coming out of my right!
It’s nearly 25 years later and now we’ve got Samuel L. Jackson ranting about his big black pecker and the status of Mexicans in Wyoming. In short, Tarantino’s madcap style that launched him to stardom in the 90’s, sometimes feels like an artistic crutch nowadays. That being said, this gripe shouldn’t hinder ones enjoyment of The Hateful Eight all that much…it just momentarily dampers the otherwise superb atmosphere/world building that’s established throughout the film.