Tarantino’s back in the saddle for a second shot at a Western, throwing eight hateful characters in a room, lighting the fuse and watching the powder keg explode.
So, is it any good?From the opening scene you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a classic horror movie – the incredible (Oscar nominated) score from the master Ennio Morricone, and a single shot of an old carved effigy and bleak snow covered vistas utilising Quentin Tarantino’s latest toy – Panoramic lenses. These beautiful landscapes are quickly replaced by the interior of a stage-coach which becomes increasingly more crowed as the journey progresses. We join Kurt Russell’s grizzled bounty hunter John Ruth as he escorts his latest prize to the Hangman’s noose – the foul-mouthed outlaw Daisy Domergue, played expertly by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who more than deserves her Best Supporting Actress nomination.
Along the way they pick up two stranded travellers – Fellow Bounty Hunter Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and ‘The Sheriff’ (Walton Goggins). Captivating back-stories are shared or coerced, and cusses flow like a mountain stream as they race towards shelter from an oncoming blizzard.
Their refuge is where we’ll spend the reminder of the movie, inside ‘Minnie’s Haberdashery’, which is effectively a shed in the middle of nowhere cut off from the world by a snowstorm. Now we’re trapped with four more equally hateful characters to complete the eight, but which of them can you trust, if any? The Bounty Hunters are left guarding a bounty worth killing for in a room filled with unfamiliar faces, along with some all too familiar ones. This is where things really start to get interesting.
You’ll most likely hear Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film being referred to as a play, and rightly so, QT has even mentioned that he would like to adapt this story for the stage. It could also make a great sitcom, with running gags, slapstick comedy and brilliant tongue in cheek performances from Demián Bichir and most notably Tim Roth’s witty moustache twirling Oswaldo Mobray. That is, until the ultra violence kicks in. This obviously won’t be to everyone’s liking, but I found it really punctuates the severity of the situation and reminds the viewer that these really are bad people willing to do very bad things.
On the whole I think the ensemble cast delivers some of the best performances of their careers, most notably Jackson and Russell who you instantly believe have lived the lives that we slowly (and I mean slowly) discover more about as the movie progresses. Their relationship for me was one of the most interesting amongst the other Tarantino regulars, which include Michael Madsen, Dana Gourrier, Craig Stark and Zoe Bell. In the latter’s case, unfortunately, her arrival takes you straight out of the movie. While Bell’s stunt work is some of the most exceptional in modern cinema, acting is not her strongest suit. She doesn’t end up strapped to the front of a stage coach, or perform any other daring feats, which begs the question; why not cast someone whose area of expertise is…well… acting. On the flip side of that coin is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who delivers lines that constantly push buttons with such skill that you don’t even question where she got her black eye from.
I have to give an honourable mention to a minor character but also a Tarantino favourite – James Parks. Although he doesn’t make up the eight, he plays O.B. the endearing, yet slightly down trodden stagecoach driver. Could he be part of the sunglass wearing McGraw family scattered throughout The Tarantinoverse? He’s one of the very few characters that you can get behind and hope they don’t end up staring down the barrel of pistol before the 3rd Act.
It’s the little details that stand out in this movie, hanging on to every gravelly word trying to unravel the mystery before the characters do and before the villains reveal their true intentions. You can feel the tension almost as much as you can feel the cold, watching their breath hang in the air and the steam rise from a hot bowl of stew. When they weren’t braving the cold in the Colorado Rockies, they were freezing their asses off in a refrigerated L.A. Studio. QT has even been accused of turning the air conditioning down to sub zero temperatures on his Roadshow Tour, although he puts it down purely to “Great Filmmaking”.
This movie can been seen as self indulgent on QT’s part, but if you love his movies that should be exactly what you want. If you’re not a Tarantino buff then it may be a big ask for you to sit through almost 3 hours of people trapped in a shed, but I sincerely hope you do.
If you’d like to know more about how the film was made, here’s Samuel L. Jackson to explain:
THE HATEFUL EIGHT available in Australian cinemas now.
Reviewer’s Note: I strongly suggest that you catch the 70mm Roadshow while you can. It took me back to my cinema experiences during the 80s, before the neatness of digital and an experience that you can’t replicate at home. Here’s where you can find the limited screening in Australia: