Western/Drama, 187 Minutes, 2015
One thing can be said for Quentin Tarantino [IMDB] films: they’re easy to dismiss. Before a tirade about how over-rated his films are, you’ll often hear “too violent”, “too long” or “too complicated”. Tarantino’s films are hard. They require a commitment from the audience that some are unwilling to make. “The Hateful Eight” is no different.
The setting is some short time after the civil war. We follow John Ruth (Kurt Russell [IMDB]), a bounty hunter, and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh [IMDB]). They’re in O.B. Jackson’s (James Parks [IMDB]) stagecoach heading to the town of Red Rock where Daisy will face death by hanging for her crimes. Along the way, Ruth reluctantly collects, Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson [IMDB]), another bounty hunter and Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins [IMDB]), who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Both have suffered mishaps with their horses in the building blizzard.
The group takes refuge in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a way-stop outside of town. They’re met by Bob (Demián Bichir [IMDB]), who tells them that Minnie has “gone to visit her mother” and that he’s taking care of the place. Inside are Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth [IMDB]), who introduces himself as the region’s hangman, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen [IMDB]), a cowboy on his way to visit his mother and Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern [IMDB]), a Confederate general infamous for his slaughter of black P.O.W.s.
As the storm grows, the group of strangers settle in for what’s likely to be several days.
The story has an incredibly slow burn; with a nearly three-hour run-time it can afford to. The stagecoach doesn’t actually reach Minnie’s for over 30 minutes and it’s over an hour before the entire group is finally collected in the same room; in which they’ll remain for the rest of the film. Tarantino nurtures the growing tension expertly, punctuating it with humor and random violence to create an infectious rhythm. Each character is given ample introduction and a complex web of suspicion, alliance, desire, assumption and enmity is woven between them.
As that web is untangled secrets are revealed, motivations are made clear and alliances, both predictable and not, form. Tarantino maintains engagement across chapters with distinct changes in style and tone. Flashbacks are used both to explain events, intensify certain scenes and provide relief from the claustrophobic setting.
The action is explosive, but brief, practical and inelegant. Violence is graphic, rampant and escalates dramatically as the story unfolds. There are no attempts to romanticize or soften it. Brutal pragmatism is the rule and this results in a kind of visual signature for each chapter. The characters become progressively more battered and covered in blood (and other fluids) and this pins them to specific points in the story.
Anybody that wants to can easily dismiss “The Hateful Eight” for any number of reasons. It’s incredibly violent, long, slow and populated wholly with despicable characters. It’s a difficult movie, perhaps Tarantino’s most challenging to date. Those willing to rise to this challenge will be rewarded with an intensely engaging experience.