Maybe it’s the decreasingly small window between cinema and home releases, but it’s rare that going to the movies is an event anymore. A Quentin Tarantino film has always been something a little bit special, and it’s not simply because of the enormous amount of hype that the filmmaker’s name comes burdened with. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a consolidation of Tarantino’s skills to date, both acknowledging his influences and his own body of work. Yet the 70mm roadshow version of his latest western is also a cinematic experience that is typically reserved for blockbusters or festivals, and packs a very large ride into the small confines of its theatrical construct.
If Tarantino’s familiar chapter headings were not indicative enough, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a story divided into six distinct sections. Some time after the Civil War, bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is carrying bodies to Red Rock for the reward money, and encounters John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) transporting the wanted outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Without going into unnecessary exposition, for the joy of this film is in the discovery, the trio wind up in a stagecoach lodge called Minnie’s Haberdashery with Mexican Bob (Demián Bichir), British toff Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), grizzled Southern General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), shady cowboy Joe Cage (Michael Madsen) and incoming Red Rock Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins).
THE HATEFUL EIGHT, as the title might imply, is a tense and angry film in its first act, a powder-keg of tension just waiting to explode. It’s no coincidence that Kurt Russell and Ennio Morricone’s brooding score both come by way of John Carpenter’s The Thing, as this mostly single-room drama shares as much DNA with that classic horror film as it does with the spaghetti westerns that Tarantino has revered throughout his career. Tarantino has structured his play – and it is very much a theatre production put to screen in places – to subtly reveal clues about the background to each of his characters. As each new piece falls into place, his cast of regulars and new collaborators alike completely inhabit their roles in a film that genuinely plays to the strengths of an entire ensemble cast. There are some modern dialogue flourishes every now and then, and the inclusion of a White Stripes song on the soundtrack, but it’s as if we’ve glimpsed a small piece of the Old West.
Make no mistake: while THE HATEFUL EIGHT has the structure of a stage play, it is also made of the stuff that film aspires to. Cinematographer Robert Richardson, who has worked on every Tarantino production since Kill Bill with the exception of Death Proof, makes the most of the closed confines of the Haberdashery. Shot with similar widescreen imagery to the 1950s and 1960s, Richardson’s exterior vistas in the first few acts give the film every bit of the scope of a Sergio Leone film, coupled with the claustrophobia of the close-ups the single-room setting affords. Even the intermission, itself a throwback to the glory days of filmgoing, is designed to make the most of the gut-punch at the end of Chapter 3, with Tarantino’s own narration at the start of the next part referencing events that happened during the audience’s absence.
For the first time, THE HATEFUL EIGHT doesn’t feel like a pastiche collection of references to Tarantino’s personal film library. Where Django Unchained troubled some critics (including filmmaker Spike Lee) for its blaxploitation/spaghetti western approach to slavery in America, Tarantino answers with a frank summation of racial tensions in America reframed within the context of a post-Civil War setting. There is a palpable darkness to this film, one that is often absent in the kinetic pop-culture infused films the writer/director has released in the past. So when the expected Tarantinoisms do eventually cut loose, they are so completely unexpected that they retain all the freshness and originality of something truly unique. See it on as big a screen as possible, and enjoy one of the true great cinema outings of this or any year.
2015 | US | Dir: Quentin Tarantino | Writers: Quentin Tarantino | Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern | Distributor: Roadshow Films (Australia), The Weinstein Company (US) | Running time: 187 minutes | Rating:★★★★★