Like any Quentin Tarantino film, you always wait for the inevitable violence and carnage that rocks the 3rd act of all of his films. If Django Unchained was his comedic take on the western and Inglorious Basterds was his comedic take on the war genre, then The Hateful Eight appears to be more of his comedic homage to mystery films. It’s a bit of a drama, and a bit of a ‘whodunit’ style film that watches the normal, broad Tarantino landscapes become more of a claustrophobic ball of tension inside a tiny stagecoach lodge as we try to truly get a handle on our main characters and what could possibly happen as said tension builds.
After an overture of great music by western professional composer Ennio Morricone and great landscape shots of a snowy terrain from long-term Tarantino cinematographer Robert Richardson, our story begins. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) hitches a ride from John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his driver O.B. (James Parks). Warren has three dead bodies with him, taking them to Red Rock to get paid a bounty, meanwhile Ruth, also a bounty hunter, brings his captures in alive to watch them hang. This time his catch is Daisy Donergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), wanted for murder and is the most foul person you could imagine. They also pick up the son of a Confederate leader Chris Maddix (Walton Goggins), who states he is the new sheriff of Red Rock. Not sure if he is telling the truth, the two men decide to watch each other’s backs, knowing that if he is the sheriff and dies, their bounties mean nothing.
With a huge blizzard coming in, the troop decides to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a small lodge a few miles from Red Rock. Minnie and her husband Sweet Dave are out of town, and it is left in the care of Bob (Demian Bichir), a mexican trader who claims to work for Minnie. Also there are the quiet cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Red Rock hang-man Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), and Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). When they all get snowed in together, Ruth must protect his bounty, but also have all of the characters deal with tensions over both race and former Civil War aggression.
There is some level of exaggeration in the story, very similar to other Tarantino films where he takes a genre and pays homage to it, also by making fun of its inconsistencies. The issue with this film is that the script occasionally outshines itself, and moments of brilliance and hilarity are also often handicapped by a feeling of disbelief or cynicism. Tarantino may have gone too far in a few places here, so some of the twists feel too exaggerated and there’s just not enough of a central story here to keep things bound tightly. That being said, it’s still often funny and very well-acted.
There’s definitely a great deal of playfulness in the script, and when all the characters are hurling insults at each other while inside the lodge, there’s a level of confidence in the writing that is refreshing. The film, instead of digital, aids to the characters expressions and it also allows background shots and different reactions to be very interesting. You could watch the movie a few different times, focusing on what characters are doing when not actually talking, and diverting your attention outside of the main scope of the film. This way, you can pick up more clues and definitely appreciate what Tarantino has crafted here.
The score is excellent, as is the cinematography, and while it’s a bit overlong, the film’s third act definitely delivers in being both explosive and interesting. The world, and how everyone is not trustworthy, is built with tons of flair, but this is not great Tarantino. This doesn’t quite have the Pulp Fiction/Inglorious Basterds charm that surges through his best films. The performances are really good, but the quality never quite gets to transcendent.