The Hateful Eight

2015/ USA

Director: Quention Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir, Channing Tatum

Words: J. Senior

The Hateful Eight, which if you ignore the fact that Quentin Tarantino has actually directed nine separate movies (I assume he counts Kill Bill as one…), is the “eighth” outing from America’s most notorious of cult directors. The man that machine gunned Adolft Hitler’s face off, the man that attempted to make an action comedy about the subject of slavery, the man that publicly protests against police brutality and yet creates films that depict mass gun violence and death. Yes, he’s back, but all controversy aside, this is probably his best film in years.

Praise be to Tarantino for being a director who prefers to write his own scripts and be creatively autonomous from the majority of the cinema industry. Credit where credit is due, the man sticks to his guns when it comes to his cinematic output, and there are not many directors out there today who could only release a film in 70mm prints or to select independent cinemas and abolish any notion of their film playing in multiplexes worldwide.

For all of his independence, he is often at times an overrated director when you consider some of the other great contemporary directors working today. People go mad for Pulp Fiction but I never really got why moving the scenes around so that the narrative was non-linear was so impressive, it’s just a story about unlikeable characters in the wrong order. Jackie Brown is a sub-par adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel. Kill Bill is quite simply the work of other artists compiled into two movies and the less said about Death Proof the better. I did quite enjoy the alternative history of Inglorious Basterds but I hated Django Unchained. My relationship with Tarantino’s output is at best mixed, so I was happy to hear prior to release his newest film harks back to my favourite of his films Reservoir Dogs. With it it’s claustrophobic setting and impressive ensemble cast, The Hateful Eight does what so many of Tarantino’s films fail to do, it exemplifies his range of skills and doesn’t feel like a pastiche or a rip-off of another film, it feels new and fresh, like a pile of Wyoming snow.

The story revolves around a group of criminals and outlaws, holed up in a Wyoming shack as they shelter from an oncoming blizzard. John Ruth (Russell) is taking the notorious outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jason Leigh) to hang in the nearby town of Red Rock. All he has to do is survive the next three days in the company of a gang of murderers, crooks and liars. Not every man is who he says he is, and each has their own motive for being in the shack. As well as Ruth there’s Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) an ex-communicated Union cavalry man, Red Rock’s New Sheriff Chris Mannix (Goggins), Mexican cook Bob (Bechir), British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), Retired Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Dern) and the mysterious cattle herder Joe Gage (Madsen). Ruth sets out his stall to investigate each of the men one by one to deduce whether any of them will challenge him for the bounty of Domergue or attempt to set her free. As the hours tick by tempers fray and old relationships come to the fore.

From the outside looking in this film does seem a little bit like Reservoir Dogs with revolvers but it’s far from it. It’s more akin to the basement scene in Inglorious Basterds or the dinner at Calvin Candie’s ranch in Django Unchained. However, this film is pretty much half tension and build up and half full blooded action. The build up is tantalising and makes you wait for over an hour for the eventual bloody pay off you expect when watching a Tarantino movie. Where people praise the director for his action sequences and violence. His skill of writing and pacing are laid open here. It’s in the quieter moments that the film really hooks you in a rewards you for the investment of your time. Set out in Chapters in an almost Shakespearean fashion. The title of each chapter alludes to an event within the upcoming sequence to guide you steadily through the narrative.

It was part way through (and I’ll not say exactly where) when Tarantino’s voice kicks in over the action, in the form of an anonymous narrator, that I was really hooked, the film steps back a few scenes and the director slyly alerts your attention to an action “you may have missed”, which then instantly aligns you with certain characters and alienates you from others. The secrets are divulged to the audience and you wait in anticipation for the fall out of this scene.  It’s a clever stroke, and one which I found ramped the enjoyment up several notches.

The cast here are brilliant also; Russell, Jackson, Roth and Madsen return again for the director and each plays his part in devilishly good fun. But it’s the two newcomers here that really stand out from the crowd. Walton Goggins (who played transvestite call girl Venus Van Dam in Sons of Anarchy) as Chris Mannix who really steals the show. Mannix is a former outlaw bandit turned law man and is on his way to Red Rock to assume the position of Sheriff. He is at times quaint and timid and is at odds in the company of such violent men as the ones he finds himself with, but is also attempting to assert his new authority at the same time. It’s a performance of career heightening standards, and I can only hope he gets to helm the next Tarantino project himself, he carries this film at times when the acting of some of the older cast members leaves little to be desired. Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue is also fantastic. In somewhat of a breakout role for her, her character has to cope with being punched, elbowed, stabbed, shot and vomited on throughout the course of the movie, it really is a tour-de-force on her part. She spends the majority of the run time chained to the wrist of Kurt Russell and their chemistry is at times electric.

There’s precious little else to say about this film that hasn’t been said already at this point. I did enjoy it as a whole and I didn’t feel like I’d been robbed of three hours of my life as I have done before when watching one of his films. Whilst it’s his best film since Inglorious Basterds it’s still just a Tarantino film at the end of the day. Gratuitously violent, shamefully borderline with its racist language and a rather predictable affair. If you like his films you’ll love it as always, but if you appreciate other forms of cinema there is enough here to keep you entertained. That isn’t seeing someone’s been head blown to pieces for 1000th time though, there’s more in there if you take a closer look.