Tarantino films have a timeless quality. Regardless of the setting, there’s a mythical element to the way that he manipulates archetypal characters into new situations. Once a genre has been “Tarantinoed” those who come after him have to wrangle with his natural revisionism. The Hateful Eight though is easily his most fierce and contemporary film to date. The American Western has always held an uncompromising reflection of the state of the nation and The Hateful Eight seems fuelled by the racial tension gripping the U.S.A. While Tarantino revealed that a brief depression influenced the form of the film, eight people in a room essentially trying to kill each other, he found that the racial elements of script continued to echo in the events occurring in the U.S.A as he was writing. Whether it’s osmosis or conscious, it’s palpable.
Set in the wake of the Civil War, stranded travellers Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) fortunately find temporary refuge from an intense blizzard in the carriage of John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his treasured bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) before arriving at Minnie’s Haberdashery. The troupe of boarders also include Bob (Demián Bichir), Oswald Mowbray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). One thing is certain; things are not what they seem.
Tarantino keeps the audience in a steady level of discomfort. Your’e never allowed to be set on a particular character. Throughout the film you’re faced with their admirable qualities and vices, blended together like a ‘five dollar’ shake.
Jackson’s turn as Warren is sensational. While Jules from Pulp Fiction is his most iconic role in Tarantino’s body of work, there’s so much vicious meat for him to chew on in the role of Warren that it’s tough to decide which one to love more.
Jennifer Jason Leigh just soaks up the volleys of violence directed her way. She literally and figuratively spits some of Tarantino’s most vile and hostile prose yet; but she’s able to avoid being a demonic presence. Tarantino gives you flashes of calculating manipulation of her captors and fellow Haberdashery guests, and melancholic melodies yearning to be free that gives her character new dimensions.
Kurt Russell wears the misplaced pride of his word, etched into the lines on his face. Walton Goggins’ Sheriff Chris Mannix has a slippery eloquence and false bravado that makes you both love him and want to slap him. It’s really a treat to see him shine alongside some more frequent Tarantino alumni. Tim Roth’s a joy as Oswaldo Mobray, if only for being able to be able to say the name of his character. Mr cool, Michael Madsen’s Joe Gage works in that “I don’t give a f*ck” corridor that Tarantino crafts for him to shine. Bruce Dern’s General Sandy Smithers is physically brittle but his wit and seething racial hatred is fresh as a daisy.
The Hateful Eight is striking; the Panavision 70mm film is cinema as spectacle. While those who see the film undoubtedly expect something more akin to the jaw dropping Monument Valley scenery in The Searchers, or desolate expanses of Once Upon a Time in the West, or the grandeur of Lawrence of Arabia. To quote Paul Thomas Anderson on The Hateful Eight – there’s no special effect that compares with Samuel L. Jackson’s face. Ennio Morricone’s score roars like an encroaching storm as Tarantino frames the approach of the carriage containing Ruth (Russell) and Domergue (Leigh) with a wooden crucifix. The slog through the snow, being enveloped by blizzard foreshadows the torture to come. Jesus’ likeness demands you to confront the question of faith as nature is doing everything to extinguish the travellers. Despite Minnie’s being the setting for Tarantino’s verbal sparring appetisers before the murderous main courses, the Panavision 70mm allows every single detail of the space in every frame to pop; you’re like a predator in the undergrowth watching for movements of characters that constitute threats.
Tarantino’s direction of The Hateful Eight surprised and impressed me with his ability to find the organic in the execution. Daisy’s (Leigh) scene playing her rendition of Australian folks song Jim Jones of Botany Bay, pauses with a mistake in the rendition. Leigh carries on, absorbing the mistiming and executes the rest of the song with perfection. This reviewer can’t imagine a Tarantino that would have allowed his vision to be compromised by imperfections, until now.
The Hateful Eight does not leave you feeling like you’ve slayed the dragon like Mississippi slavers, toppled the Nazis or exacted bloody vengeance; it serves you an ice cold impression of the world gurgling toward mutual destruction. Oh, and it’s incredible.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Written and Directed by:
Samuel L. Jackson… Major Marquis Warren
Kurt Russell … John Ruth
Jennifer Jason Leigh … Daisy Domergue
Walton Goggins … Sheriff Chris Mannix
Demián Bichir … Bob (as Demian Bichir)
Tim Roth … Oswaldo Mobray
Michael Madsen … Joe Gage
Bruce Dern … General Sandy Smithers
James Parks … O.B Jackson
Dana Gourrier … Minnie Mink
Zoë Bell … Six-Horse Judy
Lee Horsley … Ed
Gene Jones … Sweet Dave
Keith Jefferson … Charly
Craig Stark … Chester Charles Smithers
Belinda Owino …Gemma
Channing Tatum … Jody