Quentin Tarantino follows up 2012’s “Django Unchained” with another western, albeit one structured in a completely different style. Named more likely in tribute for exploitation western “Cut–Throat’s Nine” rather than “The Magnificent Seven”, the entire movie is set almost exclusively in a small, one room cabin known as Minnie’s Haberdashery.
It unfolds like a play, structured with chapters and driven by dialogue and character interaction. The narrative is basic, the central plot revolving around bounty hunter John Rith (Kurt Russell) transporting his captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) over the mountains to the town of Red Rock, where she’ll stand trial for a hanging. Along the trail they come across fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and a soon-to-be-appointed sheriff, Chris Mannix (played by the charismatic Walton Goggins). A blizzard forces them to take cover in Minnie’s Haberdashery and there they run into the rest of the hateful group, made up of Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, and Michael Madsen.
Tension fills the cozy little place almost instantly, as each character is hiding something nefarious regarding the real reason they’re there. It feels like watching a play, one where every character is somehow tied to another, however loosely, and no one is quite what they seem. The cast is fantastic, with standout performances from Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson in particular. It keeps you on your toes, always wondering which character is going to say the wrong thing next and even get someone killed. The characters themselves are a collection of murderers, racists, criminals, and bounty hunters.
It’s a disaster waiting to explode, and it certainly does. With ludicrously bloody results. In that regard it’s very much a standard Tarantino film, full of all the trappings you might expect from his work (or that he wants to be associated with). It’s packed to the brim with sharp, vulgar dialogue as characters banter and snap at each other, others giving long detailed monologues full of surprising and horrific anecdotes. The dialogue is as sharp and strong as it’s ever been in his movies, lacking some of the self-indulgence of “Death Proof”. There’s plenty here that serves no purpose other than to have the characters interact, but this only adds to the already mounting tension that almost never leaves until things take a sudden and violent turn. And then there’s the violence. As you might expect not only from a western but one of Tarantino’s movies, things get bloody. The violence is heightened to a comical degree, geysers of blood and beyond cruel stories of vengeance. It hearkens back to some of the shootouts from “Django Unchained”, and it’s just as over-the-top.
This movie is set entirely in one location, and this is despite his boasting of having shot the film in the rarely used 70mm format. What’s especially amusing about his shooting it this way is thinking in terms of the company he’s now joined. In the past, this was used for big spectacle films, including “Ben Hur” and “Battle of the Bulge”. While “The Hateful Eight” does include some scenic cinematography, mostly in the beginning, the rest of it is inside that small cabin. This seems to affect his framing, as he plays with foreground and background action. The arrangement of props and characters is crucial and it shows. You see every inch of that place and get to know it inside and out.
As the advertised 8th film by writer/director Quentin Tarantino, “The Hateful Eight” makes a strong showing in his filmography. Aiding by a foreboding original score from legendary Ennio Morricone, it captures what’s made him such a voice in modern cinema, from his unique writing and dialogue as well as his visual sensibilities.