the_hateful_eight_3Year: 2015
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer(s): Quentin Tarantino
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.76:1
Rating: R
65mm, Color, 187 mins roadshow presentation, 168 general

Synopsis: In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive? (Source)

This review is for the extended, 70mm roadshow format – see it this way if you can!

Hell is other people. It’s this simple, yet powerful idea from Sartre’s No Exit that turns out to be the key point in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Like that iconic story, Tarantino locks all of his characters into a single room, capitalizing on the suppressed racial and social tensions of their post-Civil War setting to spin a bloody yarn on the self-destructive nature of humankind. In doing so, the film is the most focused culmination of everything Tarantino’s done up to this point; the alliterative, rhythmic dialogue laced with acerbic wit, the killer soundtrack (including a new score from legend Ennio Morricone), the brutal violence and colorful characters that defiantly stick in our minds. Though he isn’t doing anything new, this is Tarantino at his most razor sharp, delivering an true cinematic experience that couldn’t be pulled off by anyone other than him, and an examination of the innate hate that threatens to surface at any moment.

In post-Civil War Wyoming, a bounty hunter named John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is enroute to Red Rock, where he’ll deliver a fugitive by the name of Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). With a blizzard hot on his tail, Ruth reluctantly picks up two hitchers, another bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and a supposed new Sheriff named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who’s yet to start this first day on the job. Soon, the blizzard forces them all to take shelter at a small cabin/haberdashery, where they find themselves snowed in with four more strangers. The uncontrollable conditions outside are only as dangerous as the paranoia within the cramped cabin, when it slowly becomes apparent that one or more of them are not who they seem. With no one to trust, and a fugitive who may have an accomplice, Ruth finds himself in over his head.

Tarantino’s film is a lot of things at once, a trapped room, psychological whodunit, hard-nosed western, and showcase for his singular brand of violence and poetry, rendering a multi-faceted experience which only grows more unhinged as it progresses. Told in two parts and six chapters, Tarantino’s film takes its time even getting to its main conceit, drawing out the journey to the cabin for about the first hour and allowing his characters to establish the prejudices and unsavory gender politics of the period. Slowly but surely, the cold surrounding our characters translates to a tangible tension, which ratchets considerably when all eight of his characters are finally stuck together and foul play begins to erupt. From there, the film doesn’t pull any punches, no one is safe and it’s soon confirmed that no one else can spin or subvert worn archetype and genre tropes the way that Tarantino can. With each character a slave not only to their uncontrollable circumstance, but also the bitterness they hold within themselves, the stage is set for an explosive and focused exploration of racism, gender preconception and vengeance, all of which ring timely and even more important when viewed within modern context.

the_hateful_eight_2It takes a special kind of actor to bring Tarantino’s elaborate prose to life, and he’s again found himself an ensemble that excels at this. I have my personal favorites among the mismatched bunch, but I fear that saying too much about any of the characters is telling – most of the film’s fun is getting to learn who they are as the story forces us to realign and examine our allegiances to the spiteful group of misanthropes. I will say, however, that each actor holds their own and brings something indispensable to the film, whether it’s Kurt Russell’s disarming charm, Samuel L. Jackson’s seemingly wise, weary presence, or even Walton Goggins’ frayed, and easily excitable wild-eyed energy. The aforementioned start off the journey, while Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern add more unpredictability to the second half.

If there’s a character who gets special mention, it has to be Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue, the sole woman in the story who finds herself at its center. Sporting a black-eye and the subject of constant verbal and physical abuse from her male companions, Tarantino offers her no shelter, though she’s a character who doesn’t want any. Foul-mouthed, feral and with more going on than she lets known, Leigh is a show stealer with endearing traits and an even scarier dark side. She utterly relishes the implications of her role and adds another strong, atypical female character to Tarantino’s stable of iconic femme fatales.

Tarantino’s latest finds the director going back to his roots, trapping himself within a minimalist plot and challenging not only his characters, but his audience and what we expect. Needless to say, it’s a success on all fronts, as compelling drama at its most pure and savage, while still treading the line between pop accessibility and acidic social metaphor – a letter from Abraham Lincoln is a nice flourish which accentuates the films cold-blooded themes and drives them home. Packing a punch on its first viewing, its also a film that cries out to be seen more than once. Like any good mystery, there are tons of red herrings as Tarantino masterfully navigates his small space and doesn’t waste anything, whether it’s something that occurs in the blurred backdrop of his wide aspect ratio or a stray glance between two characters. The Hateful Eight lives up to its name, a film that shocks and prods but not for the sake of just empty offense – its purpose is to make you angry as it illustrates a primal look at the way our prejudice leaves destruction in its wake. It’s also a reminder of how Tarantino is one of the last defiant holdouts of cinema, creating a refreshingly small chamber piece that trades CGI-laden spectacle for masterful flesh and blood theatrics.