Quentin Tarantino brings us his latest film, his second Western, with his unique brand of auteurship in The Hateful Eight. Bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) is in a race against time to find shelter before a blizzard in the dead of winter in Wyoming stop him in his tracks. Alongside him is his bounty, alive but not so well, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a despicable women with a $10,000 price on her head. As he makes his way to Minnie’s Haberdashery to get shelter mysterious characters begin to pop up looking for help. On his way he finds Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), another bounty hunter with his own bounties to cash in, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the supposed new Sheriff of Red Rock, where Daisy is due to be hanged. Just as they get to the cabin they discover the owners aren’t present but in their place are four other nefarious unknown characters. Something strange is going on at Minnie’s Haberdashery, and someone is not who they claim to be. Can John Ruth survive the blizzard and cash in on his bounty?
Tarantino is great at many things, one of them is creating unforgettable characters rich with personality and history. Which is why when you have people playing these roles they can often deliver something bigger and better than other work they have done, it gives actors and actresses something to get their teeth into. Now we have two sets of characters here, we have a handful that are given a lot of screen time and a few that are not and their roles feel little more than fillers. Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins are given the lions share of screen time with the support from Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demien Bichir and Bruce Dern just being that, support. It’s a shame because they are all fine actors in their own right and considering the running time of the film, there was more than ample time to utilise them a little more. That being said, the time given to Jackson and Goggins allows them to shine so much brighter. This is especially the case for Walton Goggins as prospective Sheriff and former southern marauder Chris Mannix, as he finally breaks into a lead role, something he should have had much sooner before now. Though we could have been given more time with all of the characters, especially as it all pretty much takes place in a cabin, the extended time we get with a few select ones lets us invest into those characters much more.
There are many trademark aspects that Tarantino is known for in the film. The use of chapters is one of them, but to be honest is not really necessary considering the timeline is relatively straight for the majority of this film, and there are no significant jumps between sections. The running time is another, its extensive and the longest one yet. Now you don’t feel like it’s on for the time that it is, but to pull the tension off better than it does it most certainly could have trimmed the fat from certain scenes. It’s great to spend so much time building moments up and letting them play out in a sort of real time, it is something that has come to make Tarantino’s films stand out. But for the sake of effective tension build and pay-off, and overall effect of the film it could have been a little shorter. A little niggle I had coming out the of the film was some of the characters actions did not align with the traits they were given, in the grand scheme of things these were minor gripes that had no effect on the plot, but are also unlike Tarantino.
One of the best parts of the film is the opening score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. The opening piece that plays against the cast list at the start is beautifully brooding and matches the simmering tension that builds throughout the film. There are no grandiose tunes and heart warming pieces that reflect on the beautifully lethal winter landscape surrounding the haberdashery, it’s danger laden, bubbling under the surface until it needs to explode onto the screen and grab your attention. On the flip side, the modern tracks used in the film, of which there are few, feel distinctly out of place. Once again though, a minor detraction.
At its heart The Hateful Eight is pure Tarantino, expansive dialogue, sharp characters and a trademark unique blend of the different facets of film making. Nobody makes a film like he does, which makes watching any new piece of work something to look forward to and behold. As good as the film is, and it is very good, it does suffer slightly from a bloated running time and a touch of indulgence which holds the film back from being a piece of perfection. After taking a little while to warm up, when the tension gets going it heats the story up significantly making the climatic chapters a gruesome joy to behold. If you like your trademark Tarantino you can’t afford to miss The Hateful Eight, it’s not his best work but still a fine piece of unique film making.