For somebody who grew up watching and absolutely obsessing over the likes of Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill far before it was age appropriate for me to do so, these days every new Quentin Tarantino release is greeted with much excitement and anticipation. Whilst 2012’s Django Unchained failed to satisfy some critics, I continued to ride aboard the Tarantino band wagon, and with his latest film The Hateful Eight incorporating some familiar themes and favourite actors, the odds of me liking it were very much in my favour.
The Hateful Eight is a mystery-Western set in post-Civil War America, a time rife with outlaws and the men whose profession it was to catch them for reward. In what is truly an ensemble piece, the film’s arguable main characters are John Ruth a.k.a. The Hangman (Kurt Russell) and Major Marquis Warren a.k.a. The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), two acquaitances who through the sharing of a carriage in a blizzard, find themselves holed up in a stagecoach lodge with a cast of peculiar characters, wary of everybody’s intentions and keen to protect John’s valuable living bounty, a murderess named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The narrative progresses very much like that of a play, complete with classic Tarantino chapter breaks, with much of the picture confined to the single room of the lodge where the weird and wonderful characters come together, befriend one another, clash, argue, fight, pretty much everything one can imagine. In many ways, The Hateful Eight reminds me a lot of Reservoir Dogs both in it’s attention to extended dialogue and it’s claustrophobic, tense setting. In fact, there is one particular scene in the film that evokes one of Reservoir Dogs’ most iconic set pieces, and in striking these similarities, for me at least, Tarantino has achieved the impressive task of filling the audience with nostalgia whilst also giving them something fresh and innovative. With a wide release running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes and an extended cut going more than half an hour longer, the picture might overstay it’s welcome for a a casual viewer who doesn’t particularly care for Tarantino’s style, but for knowing fans of the director, as I am, the experience is immersive and hypnotic, pulling you in to the film’s universe and leaving you wanting more even after all that time spent watching. I must admit that the first quarter to third of the picture could be accused of lacking pace, but as soon as all key characters are introduced and the fun and game at the lodge begin, I lost track of time and simply revelled at once again being enveloped in the crazy kind of environment that only Quentin Tarantino can being to the big screen. Admittedly, the minutia of the plot might not be as intricate or all-connecting as the filmmaker’s most intelligent and compelling work, but there are certainly enough plot twists and engaging developments to keep you satisfied for three hours. Not to mention the at times quite shocking gore and violence that helps to add pace lifting punctuation marks to the engrossing conversations and exchanges that the director so loves to portray on the screen. Ultimately, if you love Tarantino, then there is very little in The Hateful Eight that you are not going to enjoy, clever, controversial dialogue, memorable characters, laugh out load moments and equally as many hands infant of the eyes moments to keep you on your toes!
In this kind of single room (almost) type narrative, strength of character and strength of performance is key, and once again Tarantino has brought together a band of actors who look and act like they are having the time of their lives. Kurt Russell returns after his performance in 2007’s Death Proof to give a quite outstanding turn as John Ruth. In an environment where morals are the very last thing you want or need, Russell manages to make the audience like and attach themselves to a man who is repeatedly shown to punch a chained woman in the face. A face full of incredible beard helps to create the character, but underneath it all Russell has honed in on how to make a bad man likeable, and this is a great skill in the Tarantino universe. Of course, exactly the same can be said for Samuel L. Jackson, whose quality when it comes to the Tarantino universe is unquestioned at this point. It would be fair to say that Jackson’s performance as Major Warren is the pick of the bunch, with certain moments rivalling what I believe to be his very best turn as Jules Winfield in Pulp Fiction. Whether it is a case of Jackson being born to read Tarantino’s lines, or Tarantino being born to write for Jackson, there is certainly something written in the stars about the combination, and long may it continue. To avoid this review turning in to a full blown essay, all I will say is that the remainder of the cast all provide stellar support for the their fellow colleagues, with special mention for Jennifer Jason Leigh who puts in a big performance, much of which relies on body language and reaction rather than time in the spotlight. Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern all have their own special moments, with the entire ensemble combining to give the audience a real plethora of intriguing side plots and extraneous information that serve to build the world of the film beautifully without the need of any real exposition.
Overall, depending on how you viewed it’s 2012 predecessor, The Hateful Eight is either a continuation of the form that Tarantino displayed in Django Unchained or is a step up, either way, the film definitely does not disappoint. At this time of the year particularly, when many of the awards season movies are serious, downbeat, dramatic affairs, it’s oh so fun to be able to escape in to a cinematic world that does’t give a damn for your sensibilities or your political correctness. It’s not Pulp Fiction, it’s not Jackie Brown,it’s not Reservoir Dogs, but it’s certainly a welcome addition to Quentin’s impressive and growing filmography.