People either love his films, or they hate them. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground when it comes to the movies of Quentin Tarantino, who now has a total of eight films to his credit since “Reservoir Dogs” hit the silver screen back in 1992.
Tarantino’s films are rife with satire, dark comedy, profanity, and graphic violence. In fact the bloodletting in his films is often so excessive that it becomes funny instead of horrifying. If you doubt what I’m saying, watch “Kill Bill.”
“The Hateful Eight,” Tarantino’s most recent film, is set some years after the Civil War and features an incredible ensemble cast including Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. A cast just doesn’t get any better than this one, and it’s a real treat to watch their characters interact in a story that only Tarantino could have created.
The film is crafted as a Western set in Wyoming during the dead of winter while blizzard is raging. As the movie begins, we see a stagecoach in the distance moving toward us. Soon we notice a man standing over three corpses while the stagecoach approaches, and he flags it down. The man is Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), a bounty hunter who is taking dead outlaws to Red Rock, where he plans to collect his reward.
Inside the stage is another bounty hunter named John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell), who also is on his way to Red Rock for a reward, and handcuffed to him is his prisoner named Daisy Domergue (Leigh). Whereas Warren enjoys killing his prey, Ruth keeps his alive for hanging, and Warren ultimately convinces Ruth to let him ride in the stage, with his corpses piled on top.
Soon another fellow shows up asking for a ride on the stage. He is Chis Mannix (Goggins), who says he’s on his way to Red Rock to assume the position as the new sheriff there. At first Ruth and Warren want no part of Mannix, but when he points out that as the sheriff of Red Rock he will be the one handing out their rewards, they welcome him aboard.
The stage eventually reaches Minnie’s Haberdashery, a combination lodge, store, and eatery where most of the action in the film occurs.
Inside the haberdashery are the following: a Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichir), who says Minnie left him in charge of the place so she could go visit her mother; Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), an Englishman; a cowboy known as Joe Gage (Marsden); and Gen. Sanford Smithers (Dern), a retired Confederate soldier. These four people and the four passengers who arrive by stage comprise the hateful eight of the film’s title.
What transpires in that lodge when these eight characters are all together defies adequate description, and so I won’t even try. But I will say that it is typical Tarantino, and if you are familiar with his work, you know exactly what that means–violence, blood, profanity, and more violence, blood, and profanity. And if you are a Tarantino fan, you’ll revel in it. Like his seven previous films, “The Hateful Eight” is at once shocking, grotesque, disgusting, disrespectful, racist, satirical, and funny. He also has succeeded in creating a Western unlike anything the genre has ever seen before.
In a lot of films, it’s easy to single out one or two outstanding performances, but in this one the acting is sensational all the way across the board, and this makes the movie doubly interesting because each of the major characters is so unique. In the film’s production notes, some of the actors offered interesting perspectives on their respective roles.
“Maj. Warren is an ex-cavalryman, an ex-slave,” Jackson said. “He joined the war to kill. He’s still that guy. He’s smarter than most people think. He’s not a man of few words. He’s a man of many words, but he only uses them when he needs to. He’s pretty quick on the trigger. He’d rather kill you than talk to you. You have eight people that are very different, that are very dangerous in their own way, and to varying degrees hateful. It’s going to be a fun game for audiences to attach to a character.”
Speaking about John Ruth, Russell said, “When John catches you, he makes sure you go to trial, and you’re tried, convicted, and then you hang. He stays and watches to make sure you hang. He’s someone who has become well-known for having a penchant for the law.”
“He’s an honorarium to an era that doesn’t exist anymore,” Dern said about Col. Smithers. “He’s beyond his time. He’s trying to figure out what’s going on in the remainder of his life. His wife is gone, the war is over, and his son vanished. He’s the most honest character in where he’s coming from and where he’s going.”
Overall “The Hateful Eight” is a fascinating character study, and in the production notes Madsen offered a perceptive analysis of it.
“It’s about society. It’s about the psychological boundaries that people have with each other. It’s about friendships and betrayals. It’s a whole bunch of subjects with a cowboy hat on it. Every character is so different from one another. It’s wonderful to watch everyone find their character.”
“The Hateful Eight”is superbly acted, brilliantly directed, and spectacularly photographed, but it definitely is not for everyone. As a Tarantino fan, however, I really enjoyed, and I give it the final score of an enthusiastic eight. The one thing I did not like about it was its running time of nearly three hours. That’s just a bit too much!