They are all indeed suspicious, but it takes some time in Quentin Tarantino’s latest captivating slow boil to see the odious nature of the title group. The Hateful Eight, simply enough, happen upon each other amid a blizzard, and even those who align closer to heroes than villains have their malevolent ways.
At his best, Tarantino’s scripts reveal characters in remarkable ways, layered storytelling disclosing layered people with pasts, presents, and futures that make what they say just as compelling as what they do. Then of course he puts the interests and desires of one smack in front of that of another’s – usually one wants to kill someone while the other insists on living.
So through the beautiful, poetic first half of what ultimately becomes a violent, bloody tale set in post-civil war American northwest, we meet a colourful cast, the first of which is a former solider whose ethnicity often a topic of conversation. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is without a horse and a way home, as too is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who purports to be a new mayor of a nearby town.
They are met in separate encounters by a hangman named John Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is taking his bounty (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the noose. As a storm bears down, they seek shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery, populated not by Minnie, but a Mexican attendant (Demian Bechir), a confederate vet (Bruce Dern), a chatty Brit (Tim Roth), and quiet loner (Michael Madsen).
Of course, their meeting takes quite a bit of time to get to, and as tends to be with Tarantino, the satisfaction isn’t in the destination, but the journey. The long, gorgeous, cold, tense journey.
It’s a sumptuous feast for the ears and the eyes – Tarantino goes back in time here, shooting on wide film, 70 millimeter Panavision, with stunning two-shots inside of carriage alternating with stunning snowy vistas of winter Wyoming. His road show version of the film, complete with an overture and intermission, seems undoubtedly the ideal version (having not seen the alternative, however). The conclusion of the longer first half pushes the film further to the brink, a brink that keeps getting pushed back.
That’s because someone dies and another reveals himself to be a revengeful, manipulative monster. Though he is hardly the first. And ‘he’ is right; the lone female in the film is already guilty, and a victim of masochism by those in the film and those in charge of it. Her misdeeds are listed by the hangman, who has a certain code, as do others, but it’s the kind of code that seems neither totally silly nor honorouble. Ruth doesn’t kill his bounties on sight, but brings them to hang. Wilson, and others, are less stringent.
With a more linear story, and less self-promotion than his last film (Tarantino narrates randomly here and there, but avoids putting himself in the film thankfully) The Hateful Eight relies on and relishes the power of an intimate, claustrophobic arena full of liars, thieves, and murderers. It’s excessive with verbosity and it’s violent nature, with powerful superficial qualities that cover up a sheer lack of meaning.
It’s not a film about revenge, salvation, or even a destination (except the grave). Masterfully executed and indeed meritorious, it’s not quite the historic reinventions his previous works have had. And without a hero – though Goggin’s earnest half brain is pretty winning – there is a bit lacking in what otherwise is a stirring encounter.