★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Sometime immediately after the Civil War, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is transporting his most recent capture, the dangerous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to Red Rock, WY, so she can be sentenced and he can get paid. Ruth has hired stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks) to navigate the mountainous terrain to Red Rock during the dead of winter, but there’s a blizzard on their heels that’s threatening to delay the trip. They soon come across two stranded travelers: The first is bounty hunter and decorated Union solider Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), while the second is former Confederate rebel leader Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who purports to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Ruth reluctantly allows the men to hitch a ride to a mountain cabin called Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they’ll hunker down and wait out the blizzard.
Upon arrival at the cabin, they meet the four men whom they’ll be forced to share the cramped confines with until the storm passes: Mexican caretaker Bob (Demián Bichir), former Confederate general Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), cowpoke Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and British executioner Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth). Ruth quickly asserts his authority and threatens any man who stands in the way of his transport of Domergue or his collection of the bounty on her head. But distrust begins to mount as the various men seem to have their own agendas, and connections between the strangers turn the cabin into a powder keg ready to explode.
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth movie is steeped in his own traditions — it’s a viscerally bloody, chronologically fractured whodunit full of betrayal and biting wit. It’s profane, protracted, violent, and yet another achievement in a career full of inspired filmmaking. After teasing what he could do with the Western genre in the good but not great , Tarantino’s second consecutive Civil War-era picture is a fully realized epic.
In addition, Tarantino and the Weinstein Company have certainly done their best to promote The Hateful Eight as a true cinematic event; the movie is one of the first in a half century to be released in select theaters in the format of a 70mm roadshow, complete with an overture and an intermission. It’s definitely worth seeing it this way if you can, since the wide-angle 70mm image is an absolute treat to behold. While the majority of the film takes place inside the crowded cabin, the exterior scenes shot by cinematographer Robert Richardson are staggering in their composition. The vast expanses of the outdoors are juxtaposed with the claustrophobia of the haberdashery, evoking the isolation and desperation within each character. This visual splendor is further enhanced by the score from master composer Ennio Morricone.
Perhaps the biggest compliment to bestow on The Hateful Eight is that, despite its three-hour runtime, its hold on the audience’s attention never wavers. Tarantino’s trademark dialogue (never known for its brevity) keeps us riveted inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, and the stellar cast manage to bring out the deadpan hilarity in the script. The picture is immersed in the racism of its era, but Tarantino is no stranger to that milieu; he’s able to navigate this territory with nuance, however difficult some of the lines may be on the ears.
This time period and director feel made for each other, as Tarantino’s obsessive attention to detail has never been more apparent. He takes the wild frontier and pairs it with the identity crisis of the post-Civil War years, giving us archetypal characters who start tearing apart at the seams as the tension rises. They’re all driven by mistrust, paranoia, and their own self-interest, stuck in a place far outside the law. The slow-burning development of each player in this drawn-out game of wits proves artful and compelling. The Hateful Eight might seem familiar for Tarantino, but every step in his career ultimately feels like a further polishing of his craft.