Writer/director Quentin Tarantino is one of the seminal auteur-filmmakers of our time, and in The Hateful Eight, he shows off his talent for original storytelling and unique filmmaking. And yet, as a fan of Tarantino, I confess that I neither hated nor loved his eighth film, set in post-Civil War Wyoming.
Bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), is on his way to the town of Red Rock to deliver his prisoner, the murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), when he comes across another notorious bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). Warren’s horse has died and he’s trying to drag his own bounty – three frozen corpses – through the snow. Upon recognising Warren, Ruth allows the major into his stage coach, prompting Domergue to spew a river of foul-mouthed, racist one-liners along the way. Warren is intriguing; he not only fought for the Yanks in the civil war, but he’s friends with Abraham Lincoln, or at least, they’re “pen pals”, and Warren has a letter to prove it.
On their way through the snow, they come across another man screaming for help. Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, and reluctantly, Ruth allows the former Confederate soldier into the carriage, resulting in more racial slurs being flung at Warren, who has more than enough wit to laughingly some spew back some venom of his own.
With a blizzard on their tail, the four decide to stop at a cabin, a kind of halfway house called “Minnie’s Haberdashery”. Upon arrival, Minnie’s nowhere to be found, but four other characters are already holed up there.
Bob the Mexican (Damián Bichir) claims to be watching the place as Minnie’s gone to pay someone a visit “up north”. The Brit, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), says he’s a hangman on his way to Red Rock to string up some rope, and some baddies along with it. Among the condemned, is Domergue. Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) is a quiet ‘cowboy’, writing a book, while the elderly General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) is a (super) racist former Confederate commander. Together, they form a hateful eight, a group of awful and abhorrent men and one woman, stuck in a room for a couple of days, until the blizzard dies down.
The setup is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie murder mystery; a group of different characters in one setting, all with secrets, and some with murderous intentions. It’s clear from the moment all eight are thrown together it won’t be a peaceful companionship, as no one seems to be who they say they are. And then, an unknown killer among them strikes, while they are all in the room, resulting in a gory whodunit.
Like most Tarantino films, the storyline of The Hateful Eight is non-linear: the film is divided into six “chapters”. The first three are continuous; chapter four flashes back to 15 minutes before the first body falls; chapter five goes further back to earlier that morning; and chapter six moves back to the present to provide the resolution. The film is typical of Tarantino with its tropes of the Western genre, like the untamed wilderness (the harsh and lonely winter landscape of Wyoming), gunslingers, outlaws, and Mexican standoffs, as well as the director’s proclivity for torture porn-style violence amid dialogue-heavy script full of witticisms.
The ensemble case is marvellous. Samuel L. Jackson stars in his sixth Tarantino film, and is as sharp-tongued and defiant as ever. And, Jennifer Jason Leigh more than deserves her Oscar nomination for playing the somewhat paradoxical Daisy Domergue. She’s a filthy, backward, racist murderer, but there’s a scene in which she picks up a guitar and sings a haunting melody, even while her teeth are knocked out and blood has dried over her face from blows dealt by Ruth. And just when you start feeling an atom of compassion, she turns back into a trashy Southerner.
The Hateful Eight contains everything that you love about Tarantino films – blood, hate, revenge, strange characters, and creative jibes and wisecracks. So why not a four or five-star rating?
In truth, the film is just too damn long. The running time is three hours and seven minutes, and it takes nearly an hour and a half for Ruth, Domergue, Warren, and Mannix to make it to the cabin. That means the first half of the film is the slow introduction of half the characters. The action only starts when they reach “Minnie’s Haberdashery”, and to be frank, the first half is tedious and boring. The film would be a standout if the editors shaved around 40 minutes off. And, to be honest, Tarantino’s persistent use of the racial slur, n*gger, is overdone, even if the term is also used by black characters. The director has always used the word in context, such as during the slave story of Django Unchained, and, in the The Hateful Eight’s setting of post-Civil War, it’s not unexpected. But, context or not, it becomes a drag, which in turn becomes offensive.
Director/writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Damián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern.
Rating: 3 out of 5
SA release date: 29 January 2016