If you haven’t seen The Hateful Eight yet, here’s my advice – stop reading. Stop right now. Quentin Tarantino’s eighth cinematic hootenanny needs to be digested organically, not spoiled by influencing statements. Pulpy surprises and a chaotic evolution demand reactionary enjoyment, as Tarantino meticulously fills this devastating powder-keg to the brim – primed for an explosive second act. Tension is meant to bubble naturally, foaming with Tarantino’s stir-crazy, who-killed-who madness. Read on at your own risk, partner.
Still here? Good. That means you’d like to discuss The Hateful Eight, and why wouldn’t you? This wild Western plays out like two wholly different films – one a Reservoir-Dogs-style character thriller, the other a gory Django Unchained shoot-em-up. An intermission divides the two segments, acting like a bi-polar switch between two opposite personalities. Patience is certainly required, but it’s also equally virtuous given how drastically things change. There I was, questioning whether Tarantino would earns his 182 minute running time while chatting with a fellow cinephile.
Silly me, I should have bitten my tongue.
The Hateful Eight is driven by John “The Hangman” Ruth’s mission of delivering his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to Red Rock where a 10K bounty awaits. Ruth prefers to go it alone, but thanks to an impending blizzard, he softens up and lets two wanderers travel along in his carriage – Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and future Red Rock sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). But the deadly blizzard proves too menacing, and a rest stop known as Minnie’s Haberdashery becomes the party’s home until conditions weaken. Unbeknownst to Ruth, four men (Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, and Damian Bichir) had the same idea given how dangerous travel was becoming, but Minnie is nowhere to be found. Eight strangers, one storm, and a 10K bounty that could tear the Haberdashery apart – this is prime Tarantino chaos.
Any fears of cinematic elongation and unwarranted over-bloating are handily dismissed by Tarantino’s second act, as he proves a lengthy first bit to be somewhat of a racially-charged McGuffin. So much of Act 1 focuses on Major Warren’s struggles as an African American in a post-slavery world, where rebels like Mannix and Bruce Dern’s General Sandy Smithers still gaze unjustly upon his darkened skin (socially relevant today?). We almost forget about the Domergue plotline as Warren tells the wildest Tarantino-penned anecdote to date, which is delivered so mightily by the always enigmatic Jackson. But it’s true – so much of The Hateful Eight‘s first half is built on combating stories about who’s the nastiest frontiersman, with little action to back up each character’s shady past.
Then Act 2 begins with a wicked, bloody firecracker-like start that only intensifies as Tarantino races towards finality. Effects guru Greg Nicotero’s work is showcased almost immediately after the intermission ends, as Tarantino essentially gives a well-intended middle finger to the first half of his very own film. Every scene delves deeper into this crazy world of untrustworthy varmints, revealing more and more interesting notes of Wild West justice brought upon by a scenario with no peaceful escape.
Anarchy is introduced early and often, while characters become larger-than-life through their own bouts of gratuitous violence, whip-cracking dialogue, and beautifully characterized performances that weave yet another (familiar) Tarantino universe. Any concerns about Act 1 are quickly proved asinine once Act 2 busts in guns blazing, as this furiously-paced Western epic absolutely FLIES to the finish line like a horse-drawn carriage pulled by ‘roided-out steeds.
Tarantino has a way of bringing out vibrant, scene-setting performances in all his actors, and The Hateful Eight follows suit. Russell is no stranger to blood-drenched Westerns after starring in S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, and he’s the same rambunctious gun-slinger when cuffed to Daisy Domergue. Madsen is a silent brute, Bichir plays a shady Mexican named Señor Bob, and Roth does his best Christoph Waltz impression with the absence of Waltz himself, but they represent a lovably mischievous gang of lunatics who are suspiciously endearing with each reluctant admission of truth.
Roth’s high-society gentleman delivers line after line of pure gold, while Bichir is so stereotypically Mexican that the word “Cabrón” is almost like a punctuation mark on his lines – but every player is confidently crafted with exaggerated features, gaining more life with each tense showdown.
It’s Jackson, Goggins, and Jason Leigh who steal the spotlight in The Hateful Eight, undergoing transformations far grander than revealed disguises. Goggins’ character remains simple in practice, but finds racial tolerance throughout the violent altercation that takes place. Someone who starts as a Southern, flag-waving white-washer becomes a more tolerant and lawful man, which charts an expansive journey for Goggins. Jackson requires much less learning in his character Major Warren, but everything we love about Sammy J. shines through in the bigot-hating bounty hunter. From cold-hearted outbursts to exclamatory statements laced with poetic profanities, Jackson does what he does best – which is everything we can hope for.
At the expense of conveying my point without the correct understanding, here’s where I claim that Jennifer Jason Leigh’s abuse-riddled performance is a step forward for female characters in cinema. Honestly. Her death-row criminal gets savagely beaten by Ruth throughout The Hateful Eight, as she smiles deviously through a river of blood pouring from her nose. She’s far from a victim, and never once cries out like a guilty damsel in distress.
Domergue takes her beating, fires back her own brand of “fuck you” witticisms, and stomachs yet another round of lumps at the expense of her own hardened, no-bullshit exterior. She’s cut-throat, mischievous, and spits blood in the face of Southern belles. This is the kind of role you’d expect to see a wise-cracking male actor to play, yet Leigh’s turn as a murderous maven deserves heaps of praise for refusing to fall into womanly stereotypes that so many other directors would opt for. Daisy Domergue is a prime-cut badass, and that’s all thanks to Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The Hateful Eight is soaked in residual spill-over from Tarantino’s oppression-charged Django Unchained – without the hard-pressed, reparation-fueled vengeance and in-your-face themes. This is a much more restrained story that starts out harping mightily on Warren’s “damn the man” bravado, but then bursts in a smokey blast of gunshots, exploding heads and delectable twists that are rich with Tarantino’s old-school essence.
Oh, and let’s not forget how Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack ties this doozy of a clusterf#ck together by setting bloody, exploitative carnage to a perfected Western score that stands alone without Tarantino’s visuals – a hallmark of winning cinema. It’s a slowly-simmering watch that takes some patience to monitor, but when tension bubbles to a frothy head, Tarantino giddily turns the heat higher, because he’s all about putting on one damn fine show.
You might not realize it in the moment, but I promise that Tarantino earns every second of his 182 minute running time. Through blood, sweat, and tears of joy.
The Hateful Eight's powder-keg first half ignites in a second half that's built on all of Tarantino's hallmarks, exploding in one fiery ball of tension, thrills and enigmatic storytelling with a snowy western twist.