Before I begin this review I want to let everyone know this review will be based off the 70mm formatted, 3 hour & 7 minute version of the film. I have not seen the wide release cut of the film, so I’m not sure of the differences between the cuts. Also, this will be a spoiler filled review, so only follow along if you’ve seen the film already.
Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film is based off an original screenplay written by Tarantino himself. The Hateful Eight is a post Civil War era story of well known bounty hunter John The Hangman Ruth (Kurt Russell) who is transporting a criminal named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock where she’ll be hanged. Along the way, John crosses paths with an aquaintance named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) who’s looking for a ride to Red Rock and has some bounties of his own to cash in on. After some miles, the crew is forced to shack up at a local rest area after a blizzarding storm catches up to them. There, the crew meets four other strangers, with unknown intentions and secrets. What unfolds over the next several days results in a deadly twists of events, as someone there is working for the criminal captured Daisy.
The Hateful Eight is a well written enclosed story with great characters delivering brilliant and somewhat witty dialogue. Tarantino follows up his spaghetti western flick (Django Unchained) with a similar western, only with less action and more interaction and exploration of the characters.
The film is structured into six chapters, which is something we’ve seen before in Tarantino’s film. Here I found it more effective, because of how I look at this film as a “slow burner”. For three quarters of the film, its very little action and “dialogue driven”. The quality of the dialogue was important because it tells us whether or not these characters are interesting enough for a story with many connected parts that’ll be fleshed out slowly over time. The film does take its time in making sure we know just enough about these guys and gal to keep the suspense and our interest going. Only Tarantino can explore characters through excellent writing, and make even the minor characters just as impacting as the major.
The back and forth dialogue between Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson was incredibly entertaining to watch. The film could’ve only included these two going back and forth, and I would’ve enjoyed it. However, as each character was added to the story, they too were just as entertaining to watch. When Walton Goggins enters the picture as the new Sheriff of Red Rock, his back and forth arguing with Samuel L. Jackson about family and war is just one example of well written dialogue keeping audiences interested and entertained, even though we just met the characters.
How the story of The Hateful Eight plays out once all the characters are present in the rest area (Minnie’s haberdashery) is like a game of Clue. If you haven’t seen a single trailer for this film, then you can appreciate how Tarantino’s writing is somewhat “self-aware”. Here’s what I mean.
A Hangman is taking a valuable criminal to hang for a 10,000 reward, and what should’ve been an easy task turns very complicated. The Hangman and his reward is forced to live in a single large room with eight strangers who aren’t just any strangers. One is the man who actually hangs criminals for the town of Red Rock (Tim Roth), another is a Mexican named Bob who’s left in charge of a local area while the owners are away (Demian Bechir), and then you have a mean looking Cow puncher who’s going to visit his mother. Not mention the man who claims he’s the new sheriff (Goggins) and a random General from the Confederate army (Bruce Dern) who’s out in the middle of nowhere.
Russell’s character immediately acknowledges the obvious, and its that something fishy is going on, because even the audience member who hasn’t seen a single trailer would know this. Every line of dialogue and minute of this 3 hour cut is put to good use, with not a moment wasted or dragged out. That’s a lot of explanation for something little, but its one thing I really liked.
As for how the story actually plays out, was highly effective due to smart misdirection. This version of the film featured an intermission about half way through the film. During that intermission, not a single audience member had a clue about what was going to happen next. I’ll speak for myself when I say that I couldn’t wait to see what happens next. Its because of how invested Tarantino got me into the story and these characters.
I was somewhat surprised to see Kurt Russell’s character get killed off first. This story sort of felt like his journey, and the whole time he came off as very pre-cautious. Once that happened, then it was all bets off. Walton Goggins usually plays the bad guy in the films he’s in, and he was the most suspicious character for me. Turns out his character was telling the truth, and that was a nice surprise.
The Hateful Eight can also be considered a “performance driven” film just as much as it is a dialogue one. There wasn’t one bad performance from this movie. Instead of highlighting every one, one by one, I’ll give point out my top three, and they may be somewhat obvious. Kurt Russell is as great as he’s ever been. His experience and energy commands the screen every time he’s on it. He’s also having one helluva a year considering all his performances have been exceptional. Jennifer Jason Leigh gets little dialogue up until the final chapter of the film. However, every time she speaks or does something she steals the moment. The standing ovation goes to Samuel L. Jackson, who gives his best performance since Pulp Fiction. Jackson received top billing in the film, and was also given the most to do in a Tarantino film since Pulp Fiction. That amount of screen time and dialogue proved to work well for the frequent collaborator of Tarantino.
As far as negatives go I only have two. The first is Michael Madsen, who I felt like wasn’t given enough in a film which explored every other character. He was kind of just sitting in the back with his head down. Its unfortunate considering Madsen too is also a frequent collaborator with Tarantino, and does his best work whenever working with the director. The second was the film’s ending, and whether it paid off enough for a 3 hour cut. It certainly had a very good ending, with several character moments. However, expectations after such a long build up left me wanting more from the end result. Channing Tatum makes an appearance in the film as the main antagonist who planned the rescue of his sister Daisy, and he gets killed off in a humorous way. However, thinking back on it, it feels very underwhelmed. I guess with the amount of bullets flying and heads being blown off during the last two chapters, the expectation was for a deadly shootout to occur similar to Django Unchained.
Overall, The Hateful Eight is a really great story that offers major suspense and attention worthy dialogue. This ice cold western drama is a slow burner over a 3 hour run time, and offers well written characters trapped in a mysterious situation. The 70mm format was something special to watch onscreen. Tarantino has a deep appreciation for old fashioned cinema. The cinematographer for this film, Robert Richardson, provides beautiful shots of snowy landscapes. Lastly, the film’s score done by Ennio Morricone beautifully captures the spirit and tone of the film. Do yourself a favor and listen to “Overture”, its really incredible.
The Hateful Eight gets a 9.25 out of 10.