If your weakest movie is Jackie Brown, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Eight films in and Quentin Tarantino is still on his game. His dialogue remains articulate, his anti-heroes are still lovable as all hell, and, most importantly, he never ceases to cook up a fresh and engaging story.
In his second western in a row, The Hateful Eight, Tarantino trades the revenge-driven plot of Django Unchained for a spin on the whodunit story. Eight folks are cooped up in a mountain-side haberdashery due to a blizzard, two of which are bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Daisy has a $10,000 bounty on her head and, as The Hangman likes to see his prisoners hang, John must keep Daisy alive through the storm. Locked in a confined area with six other people, John is on high alert to protect his prisoner as relationships, both good and bad, are formed between the eight players.
The remaining hatefuls are Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern. Leigh and Bichir are the only Tarantino newcomers, both of which easily matched the rest of the six when it came to mastering Tarantino’s dialogue.
Aside from being the only female, Leigh’s wickedly-playful nut job of a character is the standout. Ms. Domergue is a bitch in every sense of the word. More ruthless than Mr. Ruth and mean enough to secure herself prime real estate in Hell, Daisy may be the nastiest character of the bunch, but, in true Tarantino style, you’re going to love her presence so much you’ll be rooting for her every step of the way. Daisy dares you to look away from her black-eyed beaten face, but you can’t resist, and it’s in that internal struggle between you and the character where Leigh and Tarantino strike gold.
Goggins and Roth are having a blast with their characters while the rest of the gang play it more straight-forward, but still enchanting enough where the cast was the saving grace of this film’s slow-as-a-snail first two acts.
Tarantino takes his time to introduce us to his eight new babies. Where the writer is usually firing on all cylinders from the opening scene, Tarantino strips himself of gunshots (briefly) in favor of letting the audience fully embrace the eight characters he’s cooked up. That slow approach to his explosive finale is understandable given the whodunit structure, but it still made for a largely unexciting beginning and middle that didn’t pay off until the dynamite ending. But when that fuse is lit in the film’s final act, you’re going to be ready for Tarantino to knock you out, and the 52-year-old writer/director will not disappoint.
Neither will the 87-year-old composer. Ennio Morricone is the master of western scores and the unnerving pieces he crafted here hang over Tarantino’s latest like a bad omen. When Tarantino is showing a wagon move through the snow-covered terrain while you sit there in suspense, Morricone’s compositions don’t help calm you down. Instead, he hypes you up for chaos, a task the composer is the master of.
And we can’t go without mentioning Robert Richardson’s super-wide cinematography. Shot with a 2.76:1 aspect ratio (where your lame inferior films are usually shot in 2.35:1 or 1.85:1), Richardson has some fun with the extra-wide format making certain objects stick out far away from the action and placing characters all around the frame, but it’s a shame that Tarantino decided to roll this out for his slow-moving thriller with only three locations – the cramped haberdashery, an even more cramped stagecoach, and the vast snowy landscapes that surround both – and not a more visually diverse or action-packed film.
Aside from cinematography, that ends up being the problem with the narrative as well. The Hateful Eight is two hours of dialogue with a slow-moving story and no visual aid to assist, followed by a mind-blowing forty-five minutes that will make you want to dive back in to those lethargic two hours to dissect it to death. It doesn’t make it Tarantino’s greatest film, but it continues his now eight movie long winning streak.