I saw The Hateful Eight a few hours ago and even though we might not have a 70mm house in town, it’s still a great ride on a more or less standard screen with digital projection.
The story boils down to two parts: first, a specially rented stagecoach taking John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth and his bounty, Daisy Domergue to Red Rock where she will hang for murder picks up a couple of extra passengers stranded in the midst of a blizzard: Major Marques Warren, a black bounty hunter with three frozen corpses and Chris Mannix, who says he’s the new sheriff of the aforementioned town; second, overtaken by the blizzard, the stagecoach’s passengers and drivers take shelters in Minnie’s Haberdashery to wait it out – and things go all to hell.
The first section introduces Ruth (Kurt Russell, channeling one aspect of John Wayne), Domergue (Jennifer Jason Lee), Mannix (Walton Goggins), Warren (a very Lee Van Cleef-ish Samuel L. Jackson) and stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks).
At Minnie’s, they meet Senor Bob (Demian Bichir), who’s looking after the place while Minnie and Sweet Dave visit her mother; General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate officer looking to see a headstone carves for his dead son; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Red Rock’s hangman, and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowpuncher who is returning home to visit his mother after making a pretty penny on his last drive.
Of course, being a Quentin Tarantino film, any one, or all of them could be lying – and it will end in bloodshed.
To be blunt, when I heard that The Hateful Eight was going to be approaching three hours in running time, I wondered if maybe Tarantino had gone a little overboard. Then I sat down with my burger, fries and drink and actually watched the film.
The first part of the film features some awe-inspiring vistas – vistas that I can imagine in 70mm because I’ve seen a few 70mm movies in that presentation – and though there’s no real violence beyond Ruth thumping Daisy to shut her up (and, I must say, I get the impression he’d behave exactly the same way to a male prisoner), there’s great dialogue.
Ruth’s summation of why hanging is necessary – ‘only hang mean bastards because only mean bastards need to be hung’ – is an example of his sometimes circular thinking resulting in a great lines. There are plenty more where that came from, but I’ll let you decide if you want to enjoy them yourself.
Once everyone is snug and warm in Minnie’s, things begin to get really interesting.
It starts with Warren wondering about Senor Bob and Ruth not trusting anyone. Sparks fly between Warren and Smithers, too, from being on opposite sides of the battle for Baton Rouge – and later, for other reasons.
A discussion between Ruth, Daisy and Oswaldo on the difference between justice and ‘frontier justice’ is extremely interesting and while Gage seems like a sleepy fellow going along to get along, maybe he’s too quiet? Madsen, it should be noted, plays Gage like a quitter version of a John Wayne character – a nice balance against Russell’s more unsubtle take.
Mannix, it turns out, has a connection to Smithers through the Civil War – and Warren, it seems, corresponded with one Abraham Lincoln.
Once things begin to boil a bit, Tarantino pulls his signature move: he moves back in time and show a set up that leads to the first major explosion of gunfire – and now this seeming chamber piece turns into Ten Little Indians. Before everything settles to its inevitable and bizarre conclusion, Tarantino takes us back to earlier that morning, when the skies were still sunny and bright.
The Hateful Eight is a dark, dark comedy with a truly inspired ending – partly because the script is so good; partly because the cast is so brilliant, and partly because (and this is something I didn’t see coming) Ennio Morricone’s score is a horror movie score played against a western.
When the credits began to roll, I had to check my watch because it hadn’t felt that much time had passed – but by the end of the credits, it had been pretty much three hours and I’d loved every minute of it.
Final Grade: A