Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained), Kurt Russell (Escape from New York), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Road to Perdition), Walton Goggins (Predators), Demian Bichir (Machete Kills), Tim Roth (The Incredible Hulk), Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs), Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Writer/Director: Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction)
Runtime: 2 hours 47 minutes
Release Date: 25 December (US), 8 January (UK)
As Quentin Tarantino is now even closer to his supposed retirement (his plan being to quit directing after ten films), it seems odd for him to return to the western so soon. Django Unchained was an excellent view on the classic genre from the original film geek, but now he brings us an extra helping of blood-soaked bounty hunter justice with The Hateful Eight. Has the director struck gold twice in the same place, or is he scraping for leftovers at his point?
As much as many will compare The Hateful Eight to Django Unchained, they have as many differences as they do similarities. Instead of a sprawling adventure across the open fields of the American South, we have an enclosed suspense film set in the snowy mountains of Wyoming. Instead of focusing on one man’s journey for vengeance against those who wronged him, we have several characters all with hidden motives and backstabbing agendas. Otherwise the film is full of all the classic Tarantino tropes: non-linear storytelling, extensive exchanges of witty dialogue peppered with colourful expletives, anachronistic music choices, and a lot of blood. Story-wise it’s as much a mystery film as it is a western, playing out like a sadistic version of Clue at points, with the uneasy tension of not knowing who did what or what will happen next managing to keep the film riveting through its gargantuan running time. The film’s length is its biggest issue, with certain scenes dragged out far longer than necessary, and it’s a complaint that’s plagued Tarantino films for years but one he’s never heeded. Cutting out about fifteen minutes longer would have made it a little breezier, but then again this isn’t even the longest version of the movie; the 70mm Roadshow version in select theatres is twenty minutes longer including an interval.
The main cast of The Hateful Eight is mostly composed of Tarantino regulars, and all of them give the performances you’d expect from such a production. Samuel L. Jackson has certainly had more interesting characters in his previous collaborations with Tarantino, but in the role of Marquis Warren he gets a lot more screen time and he shines in every moment; a scene between him and Bruce Dern is a major highlight of the film where Jackson joyfully revels in mad perversion. Kurt Russell as the no-nonsense John Ruth is perfect casting, allowing the veteran actor to flex both his dramatic and often-forgotten comedic chops, and of all the characters he’s the one I wish I could have seen more of. Jennifer Jason Leigh steals every scene she’s in as the abrasive Daisy Domergue, her madness levels set at a constant ten as she screeches and grins her way through every scene. Walton Goggins gets a rare chance to act against type by playing the most honourable member of the main cast, but even he has his prejudices that make him an unpredictable character; any time he gets to interact with Jackson, the sparks of tension and chemistry fly. Demian Bichir and Tim Roth take on more comedic roles as the Mexican Bob and British Mobray, affecting ridiculous accents that are amusing on their own but are strengthened by impeccable comedic timing. Bruce Dern’s General Smithers spends all of his screen time sat in one spot, playing a character not dissimilar to his role in Nebraska, but he’s as fantastic an actor as he’s ever been and his aforementioned scene with Jackson is wonderful. The only weak link in the main cast is Michael Madsen’s Joe Gage. Not only is the character bland and forgettable, Madsen’s performance feels disengaged as he spends the whole movie speaking like a hung-over Nick Nolte doing a bad Batman impression. I know Madsen has been in I-don’t-give-a-sh*t mode for the past few years (AKA The Bruce Willis Method), but in reuniting with Tarantino again I’d thought he’d give just a teensy bit more effort.
Tarantino has made a big deal about shooting the film on 70mm film in all of the promotion, and though most viewers will never get the full experience of the format you can still appreciate the gorgeous cinematography in digital projection. The film clearly takes visual influence from the classic Spaghetti Western The Great Silence with its grand shots of bloodstained snow on rural American vistas, and the haberdashery set most of the film takes place in is very well detailed and captured on camera. The special effects are as gory and overdone as any of Tarantino’s previous films, especially when it comes to exploding heads; it wouldn’t be one of his films without it. The music of legendary composer Ennio Morricone has been repurposed in many of Tarantino’s films, but for the first time the director has actually brought in Morricone to compose a brand new original score. Though there is some reuse of music from Morricone’s own scores for The Thing and Exorcist II alongside some other tunes, the new soundtrack blends perfectly with the classic imagery so often associated with the musician’s work.
The Hateful Eight isn’t Quentin Tarantino’s finest work but it’s still a fantastic experience no fan of cinema should go without seeing on the big screen. It doesn’t have as many surprises as you usually find in one of the director’s iconic works, but maybe that’s because we’ve seen him riff on the Western before. For his next project, I hope Tarantino tries a genre we haven’t seen him tackle yet; I know he’s expressed interest in sci-fi before, or perhaps a spy movie or a horror would suit him well.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10