Tarantino. Scorsese. Lee. Fincher. Nolan. These are some of my favorite filmmakers, and I hold their work up as a measuring stick by which I judge others. Regarding Quentin Tarantino, I’ve been a fan since 1997’s Jackie Brown. His catalogue is varied, but his unique trademark is stamped on each film. He has a penchant for dialogue, frequently utilizes strong female protagonists (see the aforementioned film and Kill Bill), and rarely shies away from controversy. From his gratuitous usage of the n-word to his characters’ oft-displayed bloodlust – the polarizing director sparks rigorous debate in cinematic circles. When I saw a commercial for The Hateful Eight I couldn’t discern what it was about, but I noticed some stylistic similarities to Django Unchained and was sufficiently intrigued.
The eighth (how appropriate) film from Tarantino finds a bounty hunter named John Ruth (Kurt Russell, Furious 7) transporting an outlaw for execution across a frozen, unsettled 1870s Wyoming into the town of Red Rock. The outlaw may be a woman, but she’s no lady. In fact, the surly Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Jacket) is quite a handful. Through swirling, snowy winds they traverse America’s heartland, the brash Ruth determined to claim the reward for his felonious charge. Traveling via stagecoach, Ruth and his driver O.B. (James Parks, Django Unchained) happen upon a hitchhiking Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson, Chi-Raq), a Black former Union soldier on his way into Red Rock with bounty of his own.
The first half hour of the film is very dialogue-driven, and although these early moments establish the dynamic between characters, some viewers may find it difficult to keep their eyes open. The language is coarse and both Domergue and Ruth address Warren disrespectfully, as would’ve been expected during the time. Eventually the rag-tag party picks up yet another wayward traveler – this time the new sheriff of Red Rock Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, Django Unchained), who is stymied by the impending blizzard on the way into town. He boards the stagecoach and the quintet continues on, but not without stopping at Minnie’s Haberdashery on the way.
When our party arrives at Mininie’s, things take a much more interesting turn. There they meet three other gentlemen who appear to be simply enjoying the warm refuge of shelter and whiskey. Now that the gang’s all here, we have our original group of five, plus three haberdashery patrons including Jon Gage, Oswald Mobray, and simply “Bob.” This dour ensemble comprises “The Hateful Eight,” and they must wait out the blizzard before heading to Red Rock. John Ruth is particularly suspicious of his newfound company, guarding against anyone trying to liberate his prisoner. When one of the gang ends up dead, Tarantino masterfully transitions to a whodunit, and the storytelling shifts into high gear.
Tarantino’s greatest strength lies in his superior storytelling, and he used flashback to effectively break up the action and keep viewers engaged. Once his characters are all assembled at Minnie’s Haberdashery, the setting becomes fixed. In order to hold the viewer’s attention, the dialogue and action must be compelling. It’s challenging to have your characters confined to one place, but the static setting allows the performances to shine through. I was pleasantly surprised that the film only got better and better as it wore on, cresting with each successive moment and culminating brilliantly.
If I had any criticism of The Hateful Eight it would be that it started too slowly. Furthermore, I grew a bit tired of the gratuitous usage of the n-word. Yes, it’s historically accurate to place the word within the context of this movie; no – we don’t have to hear it every two seconds. One can achieve sufficient realism and authenticity without assaulting our eardrums at every turn. That aside, Tarantino is masterful at what he does, and The Hateful Eight was a worthy addition to his stellar filmography. I believe it deserves the recognition it has received during Awards season. Grade: A