The Hateful Eight (2015)

31 Dec

There is a moment during The Hateful Eight where a character quietly explains the difference between “justice” – wherein the facts are weighed and criminals are given a fair and lawful trial – and, “frontier justice” – where criminals are often shot dead in a fit of rage. “Justice” is orderly and carried out with logic and ensuring the least amount of harm as possible, while “frontier justice” is brutal, chaotic, and fuelled by emotion.

It’s obviously clear Quentin Tarantino is an advocate of the latter kind. 

The writer/director’s 8th film appropriately titled The Hateful Eight is essentially three hours of his signature, in-your-face, badass-to-the-limit screenplay. You know, the kind where you can just feel the narrative tension escalate with each passing moment. Where you know – without a doubt – things are going to get ugly, but you can’t seem to guess how or when.

Taking the form of a post-Civil War western set along a snowy Wyoming trail, The Hateful Eight starts off with two bounty hunters who just happen to cross paths with each other. Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson at his best), who is en route to a town called Red Rock when his horse dies, seeks the help of cowboy John “The Hangman” Ruth (an equally impressive Kurt Russell) who is transporting outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock where she will be tried and likely hanged. Domergue has a pretty price on her head, explains Ruth. A whopping $10,000, which makes The Hangman suspicious by default of any passersby including Warren and a drifter named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the new Red Rock sheriff.

In the world of the wild, wild west, one man’s word has a lot of weight, and the ability to trust fellow travelers or not can spell life or death on the frontier. Take into account the rampant racism between divided factions of the war that are still bubbling, and you have the ingredients for a suspenseful witch-hunt of a mystery. “One of them fellas is not what he says he is” says The Hangman as he tries to measure up each character’s motivations.  It’s in this climate of paranoia and racial tension where The Hateful Eight thrives. Every man (and woman) is looking out for him/herself and unlike Tarantino’s last film Django Unchainedit’s not so easy to tell the good guys apart from the bad ones.

There are essentially only two locations in The Hateful Eight: the harsh exterior of the winter trail, and Minnie’s Haberdashery, a sort of makeshift-inn for trustworthy travelers. In the hands of another director, this kind of a film with such minimal set pieces could feel like an eternity – especially with a running time of 3 + hours (case in point: The Turin Horse). Tarantino’s masterful writing however, flows effortlessly from one scene to the next. Though it clocks in at a whopping 187 minutes, Tarantino lets us get to know each character over the course of many small-talk conversations throughout the film’s first half. Quentin himself gives us a brechtian half-time voiceover, where he brings the audience to speed and chops up the narrative structure before throwing us headfirst into the film’s more violent and insanity-ridden second half. Such a postmodern interruption comes off a bit too jarring for a western, but part of The Hateful Eight’s fun lies within its unpredictable and often bloody surprises.

Shot in “Glorious 70mm Ultra Panavision” (an odd choice for such a minimalistic film), the film looks absolutely stunning in each and every shot. True, Quentin has scaled things back a bit from his epic and sprawling Django Unchained, but every frame here feels utilized within its 70mm space.  Performance-wise everyone is on-point, with Jennifer Jason Leigh being the lead scene-stealer. Supporting work by Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, James Park, Demian Bichir, and a few captivating moments with Zoe Bell, Channing Tatum, and Gene Jones are icing on the cake.

It’s true that all the major players in The Hateful Eight could have been instruments of “justice”, with all the criminals and do-gooders taking their rightful roles. But what Tarantino knows only too well is that watching everyone’s attempt at carrying out the good ol’ fashioned “frontier justice“, well…. it’s just a hell of a lot more fun.

Bottom Line: A throwback western that’s 100% Tarantino, The Hateful Eight is a heavily plotted, hitchcockian thriller that sizzles with anxiety and great performances throughout its lengthy runtime. 

Rating: 8/10

Film recipe: That opening scene in Inglorious Bastards – nazis + cowboys, + Seven Psychopaths + Rope + No Country For Old Men 

 

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