Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino | 187 min. | ▲▲▲▲△
No one will be arguing that The Hateful Eight represents the best of what this Academy Award-winning former video store clerk has given the cinematic world. After all, Quentin Tarantino is the guy who wrote and directed Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Inglourious Basterds, all modern classics in their own right. The Hateful Eight just can’t make that claim.
But what still earns this new film a hefty recommendation, lifting it clear above being just a Sergio Leone pastiche, is the formal care with which Tarantino tells his story. Twenty-five years since his arrival on the scene and he’s still leaving pretenders in the dust with the sheer energy of his filmmaking.
The Hateful Eight feels a step above his last western, Django Unchained, in sheer scope: an epic shot-on-Ultra-Panavision 70 mm, 1960s-style western, complete with opening overture—Ennio Morricone’s spectacular original score—and an intermission between the second and third acts.
Bounty hunter John Ruth (a full-voiced, whiskery Kurt Russell) is taking Daisy Domergue (the always welcome Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang for alleged crimes, but gets stuck in a shack on the side of a Wyoming mountain in a blizzard, holed up with a congregation of outlaws and other bewhiskered souls, including former union officer Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson, resoundingly badass), supposed sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichir), an English hangman (Tim Roth), a mysterious stranger (Michael Madsen), and a Confederate general (Bruce Dern). Those eight are all pretty hateful, with a little help from a stage driver (James Parks) and a few others, including Zoe Bell and Channing Tatum.
In some ways, reuniting with a couple Reservoir Dogs chums in the cast and restricting them to, for the most part, a single location, throws this new movie into his debut’s shadow. It goes from pointlessly gory to deliberately lethargic in places, with Tarantino more in love with his dialogue than ever, letting the story reveal over a chronology-jumping (natch’) three hours, even choosing to show up with a distracting voice-over.
But that liability—indulging every leisurely conversation, whether it’s actually relevant to the plot or not—is also part of Tarantino’s strength as a storyteller. He’s someone who forces his audience to slow down, shut the hell up, and appreciate a juicily gradual narrative pace. He’s maintains a playful approach while demanding we feast on a frame stuffed with detail, each character fully fledged, no matter how long the scenes take to play out.
He’s also forever ornery, never getting too serious: He can’t help but undercut what contemporary socio-political relevance his story might have—Jackson scores some points with his observations on race in America—by signing, sealing, and delivering in the final act a bloody exploitation picture, what could almost be called a surreal remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing, with two potential antagonists left bloodied and dying in the cold.