After losing his horse, former cavalryman-turned-bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) petitions a ride in a passing stagecoach that happens to be carrying infamous mercenary John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his latest quarry, accused murderess Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The two gunmen form a partnership to protect their respective investments after another stranger, supposed Red Rock replacement sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), also requests passage aboard the transport. When the weather worsens and a blizzard forces the group to take refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, Warren, Ruth, and Mannix are forced to intermingle with a host of unsavory characters similarly stranded at the five-and-dime – any of which could be in league with Domergue, just waiting for a chance to slay her captors to set her free.
With the three-hour roadshow presentation, complete with overture and intermission, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” tries desperately to recapture the feel of a Western epic, like one of Sergio Leone’s iconic entries, or Mark Rydell’s “The Cowboys.” He even steals Ennio Morricone for the score. But the result couldn’t be further from a standard Western (or even a Spaghetti Western or Neo-Western); instead, Tarantino’s efforts reveal that he’s stuck on the idea of a group of killers having intricate, intimate conversations about all sorts of things – whether or not it’s hitmen or samurai or bounty hunters. If it weren’t for the hats and the horses, “The Hateful Eight” wouldn’t resemble a Western even in a visual sense.
And that’s another problem: this cast of Tarantino regulars all seem terribly out of place – especially for a Western. Madsen, Bell, Roth, Bichir, Goggins, Jackson, and Tatum look like modern people stuffed into costumes; never once do they appear (or act) authentic to the post-Civil War time period. And with the wordy discourse, the character development paints personas of contemporary gangsters, speaking of current activities – most notably in the crude sexual details of Warren’s torture tactics. The director isn’t really trying to emulate a Western; rather, he’s inserting his standard, long-winded, crime-laden motifs into a negligibly Western environment.
Other Tarantino routines are also just as unforgivable and incongruous. He has clearly run out of ideas when he once again plays events out of order, or adds in narration and chapter stops that interfere with the flow of scenes, or when he includes outrageously gratuitous violence. But the worst offense is the running time; believing that everything he writes is faultless, he refuses to cut anything out. This means that credits, scenery, dialogue, camera movements, and even the action sequences are sluggish. It’s a long, slow build to a long, slow build, made painfully evident by the halfway mark, which makes one wonder if things will pick up in the second 90-minute piece. “Let’s slow it down. Let’s slow it way down,” insists one character, before another comments, “The name of the game here is patience.”
At the end of it all, the story is little more than “Ten Little Indians” or “The Thing,” where paranoia causes acquaintances to doubt everything to the point of hysteria and ruin. But this mystery has few surprises, particularly as the tension is mitigated by prolonged conversations in a stagecoach, a stable, a way station, and around a dinner table. It’s as if all the character development is accrued by trading stories around a campfire. Although some action does erupt toward the climax, Tarantino isn’t interested in imitating the cathartic rampages of “The Wild Bunch” or “The Magnificent Seven,” or “Unforgiven,” opting instead to settle again on lines from his script – hoping for some great poeticism in the repetition but revealing only tedium.