“The Hateful Eight is undoubtedly my favorite Tarantino film since Death Proof“
Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight has gone through hell and back again to get made, originally axed after Tarantino’s distribution of the script to Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen led to one of the men leaking it onto the internet. After more-or-less throwing a tantrum over the entire event and shelving the project as a result, Tarantino, with massive fan support, per usual, decided to pursue turning the story into a film once again, and all seemed well until the film itself was leaked onto the internet just a few days before the release.
The checkered history of the film’s release before it was even able to be seen in a theater – where the film should ultimately be seen – is one of the strangest for a mainstream film in many years. In my opinion, however, it only adds to the craziness that is The Hateful Eight as a whole. At just under three hours (or just over, if you catch the 70mm/Ultra Panavision 70 version in over one-hundred theaters in America), Tarantino’s sprawling epic is a smartly written mystery, largely acting as a stageplay about eccentric souls stuck inside a haberdashery in the midst of a relentless and frigid Wyoming blizzard.
The film opens with Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a local bounty hunter, hitching a ride from a notorious bounty hunter named John Ruth (Kurt Russell), also known as “The Hangman.” Ruth has a woman named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) shackled to his arm, as he plans to turn her in for the $10,000 bounty as soon as they get to a place called “Red Rock.” Warren tags along in order to get to a place called Minnie’s Haberdashery to wait out the blizzard before finally traveling to Red Rock. Along the way, the three pick up a man named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the new sheriff in town, and upon arriving at the haberdashery, the four are acquainted with another shady bunch of men, including a quirky Englishman (Tim Roth), a Mexican man (Demián Bichir), a “cow puncher” (Michael Madsen), and a largely quiet World War I veteran (Bruce Dern).
After the eight souls meet in the haberdashery, it doesn’t take long to realize that somebody is working in cahoots with Daisy Domergue in one way or another. While most of the latter men act very collective and oblivious, Warren and Ruth serve as the two to try and bring some sort of clarity and order to the situation. The result, as you can expect with the territory that comes with a Tarantino film, is loud, bloody, and violent.
The Hateful Eight is undoubtedly my favorite Tarantino film since Death Proof (notice I said “favorite,” not “best”), even if we’re only going to speak of the film’s immaculate cinematography, done by frequent collaborator Robert Richardson. Speaking as someone who doesn’t know a great deal of anamorphic aspect ratios or the core issues with film and digital media, I’ll explain the effects of Ultra Panavision 70 in layman’s terms. 70mm basically allows for extremely wide-widescreen shots, allowing for a grand scope to be seen. Where full-screen typically letterboxes the sides of a film and, in turn, cuts off the sides of the image and widescreen allows those formerly subtracted sides to be seen, Panavision allows for a much wider shot to include even more than a widescreen image ever could.
As a result, the film looks like what a widescreen film used to look like on your old Television set, where the imagine is a long rectangle with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. The decision for Tarantino and Richardson to shoot “The Hateful Eight” in this manner allows the luscious imagery of the snow-covered mountains in Wyoming to be shown with pristine detail and beauty. Even though more than half of the film takes place inside a haberdashery, Tarantino still manages to use 70mm to capture the details of characters’ costumes, facial expressions, and backgrounds in a way that’s simultaneously subtle and decorated.
With that, The Hateful Eight is also a brilliant collection of seriously compelling performances. While not a single performance is even average, though some actors like Michael Madsen are under-used, the performances of the hour come from Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell, giving very different performances. Jackson plays menacing but eloquent in a way that he hasn’t quite done since Pulp Fiction, while Russell shows that working with Tarantino consistently brings out the best in him as an actor. Russell needs to fire on all cylinders here, occasionally having his character be more laidback and reasonable, despite largely acting as a blunt-force ready to bash Daisy’s face in whenever she steps out of line. His performance here is a truly magnificent work of diverse acting abilities, and with Tarantino’s liberal runtime, he’s about to include and emphasize that kind of layered acting.
Being a Tarantino film, you will inevitably get your accusations of homophobia, with one particular monologue by Samuel L. Jackson that does go a bit too far in terms of not being too funny or very relevant as much as it is for shock, racism, with Tarantino’s excessive use of the n-word, and misogyny thanks to the only real female role in this film being a punching bag for the men (though Leigh does indeed get time for her and her character to shine). My biggest gripe with Tarantino’s unchanging style is that the violence in the last act of the film takes away from the engaging setup and grace the first act really emphasized. The slowburn opening of the film really capitalized off of a premise that was going to take its time to move from character-to-character, but Tarantino seems to be unable to remedy or push his appetite for violence and bloodshed by the wayside by the conclusion of the film.
The Hateful Eight is still a devilishly interesting film; at nearly three hours, it’s never boring and through terrific performances and seriously beautiful cinematography, reminds audiences why we love Tarantino for all that he can do and do so well. For as merciless and as violent as this film can be, it’s also an undeniably great time and an aesthetic achievement for the director himself, which, in a day and age where Tarantino can pretty much say three words and make front page news, is about the most we can ask from him.