After a three year absence, the King Of Geeks himself Mr Quentin Tarantino is back with his eighth offering – aptly titled The Hateful Eight. It’s no secret that Tarantino has a fond admiration for the ‘Spaghetti Western’ genre (he cites The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as his favourite film of all time), and many of his films contain western influence – see Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. But now he finally delivers a Western proper, a desire he’s been longing to fulfil for many years. The Hateful Eight nearly didn’t make it to the screen at all – when his script was leaked on the internet three years ago by someone in his close circle of actor friends, he threw a tizzy and declared the film would never get made. Thankfully, he changed his mind.
The Hateful Eight takes place shortly after the end of the Civil War. In true Tarantino style, the plot involves several characters (well, eight actually), boasting typically Tarantino-esque names, whose lives become intertwined: John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a brutal bounty hunter who’s taking his prisoner Daisy Domergue to the town of Red Rock to be hung. Along the way he picks up hitchhikers Major Marquis Warren (Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson) and Sherriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). After getting caught in a blizzard, they seek refuge at a stagecoach stopover known as Minnie’s Haberdashery where they meet Bob ‘The Mexican’ (Demian Bichir), hangman Oswald Mobray (Tim Roth), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen)and Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). Then the fun begins...
The Hateful Eight is a significant departure from the usual non-linear format we associate with Tarantino. Sure, the chapter headings, witty banter, gracious violence (extra gory even by Tarantino’s standards) and yes, Red Apple cigarettes, are all present and correct, but the film is much more intimate than anything in his back catalogue. The bulk of the movie takes place in just a single room, which lends the film a stage-play feel, something he dabbled with on Reservoir Dogs (John Carpenter’s The Thing is also a clear influence in The Hateful Eight’s setup). Tarantino’s dialogue has been pushed front and centre – and there are looong periods of dialogue, which although extremely entertaining and engaging, can at times border on tedium. The film is a slow burn, but stick with it and you’ll be glad you invested in the characters once the bullets start to fly. With each conversation, Tarantino slowly starts to draw you into his world until you’re literally hanging off the edge of your seat, such is the tension-inducing power of his dialogue. Just imagine that famous Christopher Walken/Dennis Hopper scene from True Romance or the wonderful Christoph Waltz/Michael Fassbender bar sequence from Inglourious Basterds stretched over one entire movie, and you get the idea.
During the promotional junket tours Tarantino, being the huge cinephile that he is, made a big song and dance about The Hateful Eight’s 70mm format. The director is of course a huge advocator of traditional cinema – he scoffs in the face of digital projection and CGI jiggery pokery. His vision for The Hateful Eight was to present it in the most cinematic way possible. Rarely seen in modern day cinema, the 70mm format – which is twice as wide as standard 35mm stock - was gloriously used in Hollywood’s heyday for epics such as Ben-Hur, Lawrence Of Arabia, and The Sound Of Music. Sweeping landscapes were captured in their full ultra-wide glory, but the format slowly died out, and nowadays everything has switched to digital projection of course. Tarantino has now re-introduced audiences to the beauty of Ultra 70mm Panavision (using the exact same camera lenses that were used on Ben-Hur in 1957), but if you were expecting a Sergio Leone-style grand Western with sweeping vistas and lush scenery, then think again – the story really does unfold in one room! But the cinematography is still fantastic. By utilising 70mm, Tarantino allows the audience to get up close and personal with the characters, and the effect is stunning. You feel as if you’re riding in John Ruth’s horse carriage during the blizzard. You can practically feel the hot breath on your face as Major Marquis Warren boasts of his Lincoln letter. And the interior of Minnie’s Haberdashery comes to life gloriously, leaving you feeling as if you’re another character in the room, inhabiting the same space.
Another significant change is Tarantino’s use of music. For the first time in his career he has opted for an orchestral score (composed by Westerns legend Ennio Morricone) as opposed to peppering the soundtrack with greatest hits from his own personal collection. The change works well, and adds to the tension of the story. The story itself isn’t as complex as one might expect from Tarantino – it essentially plays out as a kind of ‘Who-done-it’ murder mystery, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren playing detective after sensing that something isn’t all as it seems when they reach Minnie’s Haberdashery. This is Jackson’s best role since Pulp Fiction, and it’s a shame he hasn’t received recognition for this year’s Oscars. There aren’t many likeable characters to root for, but the entire cast are just fantastic. In particular, Walton Goggins, Kurt Russell, and Oscar-nominated Jennifer Jason Leigh are an absolute joy to watch as they spit out that familiar Tarantino garb.
The only gripe is that the film’s power diminishes upon repeat viewings – once you know where the story is headed and the chains of event that will unfold, the impact is reduced significantly. Nothing will capture the feeling you had upon viewing The Hateful Eight for the first time, whereas Tarantino’s back catalogue can be enjoyed again and again. But Tarantino does manage to outdo himself in the ‘wtf’ stakes with a perfectly timed mid-interval monologue by Major Marquis Warren, which is worth a repeat viewing alone.
Perhaps slightly overlong, but has all the usual Tarantino trademarks – humour, violence, witty dialogue, and plenty of shocks, all wrapped up in a neat, simple story. But not one for the faint-hearted! Welcome back Mr Quentin Tarantino.