Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bíchir and Bruce Dern
Running Time: 167 minutes
Release Date: January 8th
Quentin Tarantino claims he wants to give people a reason to go to the theatres, and lately, he’s been adding box office haul to critical acclaim. With a looming retirement on the horizon — he continuously claims he’s done after 10, leaving two left — he’s made the interesting choice of making one of the most uncommercial films about an inherently corrupt bunch, staged almost entirely in one location.
A few years after the American Civil War, John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) is bringing Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to hang for an unstated crime. Along the way, he picks up a couple of roadside stragglers, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, who reaffirms he was born to be a vessel for QT’s dialogue), on the way to seek shelter from an oncoming blizzard in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a rest-stop that has just about everything a weary traveller may need but no hats. There, they encounter Bob (an underused Demian Bíchir), Oswaldo Mowbray (a fun, moustache twirling Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen channeling the returned Mickey Rourke) and General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), he a fighter on the Confederacy side. Not long after arriving, Ruth realises that the inhabitants, or at least one of them, are not quite what they seem, leading to a paranoid whodunnit that plays out like a long, carnal and bloody TV bottle episode.
Like the trick he pulled with the exquisite, reserved Jackie Brown after the sprawl of Pulp Fiction, he’s scaled down his approach in terms of story and cast itself with Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson the closest things to cut-and-dry stars amid a rag-tag of former partners like Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins and Bruce Dern. The standout is Jennifer Jason-Leigh, who you’ll question how Tarantino has never used before. As Domergue, she elevates what is essentially a vile, racist punching bag into one of his best creations, gallows-humoured, good for a song and far more smart than she’s letting on.
Where Tarantino doesn’t hold back is in presentation, fastidiously shooting on 65mm with an enormous aspect ration of 2.76:1 that floods the frame with detail and makes Minnie’s Haberdashery even more claustrophobic. Working with regular DoP Robert Richardson, his work have never looked better, with a gorgeous zoom-out of snowy Missouri in the opening proceedings. After decades digging in record crates, he uses his first score and the result from Ennio Morricone is a moody and ominous orchestra of woodwinds with an exploitation hi-hat backbone. The use of a full score and stripping away of a pop culture crutch has pushed Tarantino to be a better writer, and perhaps, a better director.
Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds were cut and dry in their approach to who was good and who was bad. With Hateful, Tarantino has completely removed the moral centre, making it tough to cheer for what is a pretty repugnant bunch of people. Its genius is that it constantly shifts perceptions — you’ll feel disgusted and uneasy when Ruth pistol-whips Domergue but any empathy you have for her dissipates in a spew of abhorrent racist epithets. Some might see the pleasure with which Ruth and Warren beat Domergue as misogynistic and Tarantino is clearly aware of the charge, in fact he actively courts it, almost punishing his audience for their previous bloodlust much like David Chase did with Tony Soprano’s fits of explosive violence each time we became too enamoured with him.
Being Tarantino, the characters, setting and dialogue are on point but his problems with structure persist. Chapters are ever-present and some second-act narration and flashback that comes out of writing himself into a corner is a little superfluous in a film that could do with shaving off some running time. You feel The Hateful Eight won’t be for everyone — it’s almost completely confrontational to its audience — but with time, it could be considered one of his best.