Quentin Tarantino has been a powerful force in the film industry since the early nineties, when he made his début with Reservoir Dogs, arguably becoming the most influential filmmaker of the decade. For the eighth entry in his sprawling, wonderful filmography (which, let me remind you, includes Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, and Inglourious Basterds), Tarantino ditches the grand scale seen in his last batch of films, and instead returns to his Reservoir Dogs roots with his second western, The Hateful Eight.
Akin to Reservoir Dogs, which for the most part took place in a single location (a warehouse), The Hateful Eight takes place in a small lodge called Minnie’s Haberdashery for what must be ninety percent of the film’s three-hour length. Though it may sound boring that the entirety of the film happens in this one location, it’s the rich, interesting characters and the dialogue that comes out of their mouths — along with the “whodunnit” mystery of the plot — that makes the film an absolute pleasure to experience and one that you won’t forget for some time.
Perhaps I should mention the characters, who are the titular “Hateful Eight.” There’s Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the ruthless bounty hunter and former Union Army soldier, Major Marquis Warren. Kurt Russell and his majestic mustache is John Ruth, a fellow bounty hunter nicknamed “The Hangman” due to the joy he finds in capturing his bounties alive to watch them hang. Ruth’s latest capture is Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a fugitive worth $10,000.
These three open the film with Warren stranded in the mountains in a terribly cold Wyoming winter, where Ruth and Daisy, traveling in a stagecoach, stumble upon him. Ruth allows the Major to hitch a ride, and it isn’t long before they come across Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Mannix asks for a ride, while declaring that he’s the new sheriff of Red Rock, the town that Ruth just so happens to be taking Daisy to hang.
Fleeing a nasty and powerful blizzard, the four make their way to Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the rest of our cast awaits. Demian Bechir is Bob, a Mexican cowhand who says he’s in charge of the lodge while Minnie and her husband visit family. Tim Roth is Oswaldo Mobray, an Englishman who says that he is Red Rock’s hangman. Michael Madsen is Joe Gage, a mysterious loner who remarks that he’s in town to visit his mother. Bruce Dern is the quiet Sandy Smithers, a former General for the Confederate Army who still wears his uniform both literally and figuratively.
Instead of settling in, the characters become wary of each other. Ruth believes that one of the four men who was at the lodge upon the group’s arrival is secretly working with Daisy to free her. We’ve gotten the chance to meet all of the characters about an hour into the film, and this is when the movie really starts.
Some characters begin to form alliances against the rest as the group starts to worry about the situation they’re in, and the people they’re stuck in it with. It isn’t long before the lodge actually becomes separated by Tim Roth’s character, one half dedicated to former Union supporters, and the other former Confederate, with the dinner table being neutral territory.
The film stays mostly violence-free for the first half, before turning into a Tarantino-patented bloodbath, one that probably outdoes each of the rest of his films. While the violence is fun and cartoon-ish, it’s really everything surrounding the gore that really makes The Hateful Eight a great, memorable film for me. Each respective character has his or her own fleshed-out history, some with each other, resulting in truly interesting characters and amazing and oft-hilarious dialogue.
In what may be my favorite scene of any film released in 2015, Major Warren tells the General the story of how he came to know — and kill — his son. Now, this story may or may not even be true, but the Major gets his point across in a wonderfully told, extremely cold monologue that helps to fuel the mistrust and propels the violence that ensues.
The characters here would be nothing, however, were it not for the amazing performances from each and every cast member that embodies the “Eight.” Walton Goggins leads the pack as my favorite performance of the bunch. His bumbling, racist sheriff is hilarious throughout, and he has the best, most fulfilling arc of any character over the course of the film.
Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance is another standout, as her ugly, sadistic character gets repeatedly beaten up and yet smiles through all of it. All of the Tarantino alums give some of the best performances of the year, save Madsen, whose character unfortunately doesn’t get enough screen time to warrant that praise, but he still does well with what he’s given. Jackson, Russell, and Roth are all in terrific form here.
In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino predominantly uses an original score, which is a first for his career. Usually his movies have soundtracks backed by pop hits, but for The Hateful Eight, Tarantino enlists famed composer Ennio Morricone, and the film is better for it. The Hateful Eight is also beautifully shot and so well-crafted that, even if you somehow happen to find yourself disinterested in the story and characters, the film is at least a wonder to look at.
The Hateful Eight is founded on a hilarious script, bolstered by some of the best performances of the year, and is ultimately one of 2015’s absolute best movies.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor