Quentin Tarantino is a film preservationist at heart: His movies attempt to bottle up the essence of films gone-by. Once bottled, he then shakes it vigorously before letting it forcefully explode all over the big-screen. A “Tarantino” film” now has taken on its own meaning…it comes with its own expectations, of sharp dialogue, innovative story-telling and of course, splatters of blood, gore and violence that borders on the cartoonish. When Tarantino points his salvo at the big-screen and fires, it usually results in a burst of unpredictable exuberance…the shock felt when a cork pops off a fine Don Perignon…the fizz and energy of something that was just waiting to erupt into the world. At times, this approach can, and has, resulted in a huge mess. The Hateful Eight (opening today) is the latest film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, and like every other one of is his films, it is instantly recognizable as such. If you have acquired a taste for Quentin’s brew, then you will be fully satisfied with it. But if you were hoping that he would show some restrain following his last, effective but bloated effort, the 2012 Western, Django Unchained, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The Hateful Eight is a throw-back Western, and a throw-back film in general, complete with a beginning musical overture and intermission. It was meant to be seen as shot, in 70mm film (not all theaters are capable of showing it in this format), which itself was popularized in the 1960s and 70s. It features a tight, star-studded cast, including some Tarantino staples like Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Samuel L. Jackson. It almost entirely takes place at and around a small wooden shack in post-Civil War Wyoming – Minnie’s Haberdashery – where an eccentric cast of characters become snowed in following a devastating blizzard.
As the story goes, the legendary (and fictional) bounty-hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), is transporting the criminal Daisy Domergue (Jessica Jason Leigh) into town to have her hanged, and to collect his reward on her head. He happens upon Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and later, Sheriff Mannix (Walton Goggins), and cautiously agrees to ride them to their mutual destination in his stagecoach. When the weather worsens, they pull into Minnie’s Haberdashery, but Minnie is nowhere to be seen. Instead, they find a rogue’s gallery of shady individuals: There is the racist old military General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), the quiet and mysterious Joe Gage (Madsen), the educated immigrant Oswaldo Mobray (Roth) and a Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichir). All of them seem to have something they’re hiding, and some reason for being where they’re at. Ruth knows that his captive may be quite the prize to any number of these other fellows, so he begrudgingly digs in, hoping for no trouble over the next few days, when the snowstorm will hopefully blow over.
But of course, nothing goes as planned.
The first half of the film is the better half, but from start to finish this is one heck of a piece of entertainment. The entirety of the second half takes place within the walls of the Haberdashery, yet somehow Tarantino keeps things visually interesting. This is mainly due to the colorful characters he’s created…every time we are spending time with one of them, we are already longing for time with the others. The ensemble is electric, led by balls-to-the-wall performances by Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Samuel L. Jackson, specifically. And good for Walton Goggins too: Fans of TV’s The Shield and Justified know how brilliant of an actor Goggins is, and here he finally is given a chance to shine on the big-screen. And shine he does.
What begins as a Tarantino comedy-Western evolves into a “who-dunnit” mystery. Someone poisons the coffee, and like a game of Clue, all of the suspects in the Haberdashery could be the culprit. The investigation turns brutal, bloody and then full-out haywire. Throughout, we are treated to as many laughs as we are sprays of blood.
And while the entirety of The Hateful Eight works, it is far better a movie in that more-restrained, patient first-half. The first-half creates a slow-building tension…the second-half goes all Tasmanian Devil and nearly blows the roof off. It’s absurd, silly at times, reckless and fun. It’s also quite the mess of a movie when all is said and done.
But nobody does messy like Quentin Tarantino. The Hateful Eight – in my opinion – is his best film since Pulp Fiction. Perfect, no, but I don’t want to imagine cinema without Quentin Tarantino’s contributions to it. His intentions are spot-on, even if his aim sometimes isn’t.
Genre: Western, Mystery, Comedy
Run Time: 3 hours, 2 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir, James Parks, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Channing Tatum, Keith Jefferson
Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs)
Opens locally on Friday, Dec 25, 2015 (check for show times).