The Hateful Eight didn’t have the easiest of Gestation periods for a film. Before a frame was even shot the script was leaked online causing Quentin Tarantino having to be talked out of scrapping the whole project. Close to the US release, Tarantino courted controversy in his stance against the New York Police Department over their record of violence against black people. A boycott of his films was then threatened. Just as that started to blow over a preview copy of the movie was leaked online prior to its release. One million subsequent downloads threatened the box office return on what is a major release for the Weinstein company.
Set in the old west after the civil war the film is a story in two distinct parts. The first takes place in the wilds of Montana. John Ruth (Kurt Russell), A bounty hunter known as The Hangman, is transporting his latest prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) across the snow covered wilds of Wyoming in a stagecoach. Along the way he picks up a couple of men stranded due to the inclement weather. One is fellow bounty hunter Major Warren (Samuel L Jackson), the other is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who is heading to Redrock to take up the post of sheriff. As a blizzard closes in on them, they are forced to seek refuge at Molly’s Haberdashery store. Here the second part of the story takes place as the new arrivals find the store inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.
Once again, Tarantino has produced a film of quality. As with his previous efforts The Hateful Eight is a refined blend of drama and action. He knows how to write brilliant dialogue for characters and weave a complex story giving all the actors their moments to shine. That explains how he is in a position to assemble a cast of such quality.
The star of the film is Samuel L Jackson as the former Union soldier turned bounty Hunter. He has the most to do and gets a lot of the best lines in the movie. It is a role that fits him well and he obviously relishes the depth of the character. He has his best moment in the middle of the film where he takes centre stage explaining a situation to another character. Without going into detail it is funny and cruel at the same time and ties the character down perfectly.
The rest of the cast all has well written roles for them. Kurt Russell with his impressive facial hair and his casual way with verbal and physical violence towards his prisoner is exceptional. His interactions with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in the first half of the film are nice. They come across like an old married couple that are just sick of each other but are literally chained together. Walton Goggins has a large part here as well. After his minor turn in Django Unchained he steps up as a major character here. You don’t really get a sense of what his motivations are until the drama is in full flow.
Much was made of Tarantino’s decision to use film stock rather than digital. The opening credits proudly states that is was shot in Ultra Panavision 70 a popular format on the sixties and seventies that was utilised to extend the scope of the image in some of the epic movies of the time such as Ben-Hur and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Here it is used to impressive effect in the snowy landscape of the Wyoming mountains. It creates an atmosphere for the outdoor shots and surprisingly it works just as well in the interior shots of the second half of the film.
The Hateful Eight was originally conceived as a side story from Django Unchained but soon took on a life of its own. Apart from the stagecoach scenes the action all takes place in one location, the refuge from the storm. It could easily work as a play as the staging and the dialogue all lend to a theatrical production. It is a film you are required to pay attention to. There is much going on and you have to listen to the interactions to try to figure out just what is unfolding.
For the first time in his career Tarantino has used an original score for a film. Ennio Morricone stepped up to produce his first western soundtrack since 1981. He is in top form here with a series of tracks that superbly complement the visuals. The tracks work well on their own but really add to the atmosphere of the movie. After his remarks about never using an original score it is good to see Tarantino changing his mind to great effect.
Overall, a superb film that feels much shorter than it’s near three hour run time. Highly Recommended.