In his eighth film, The Hateful Eight finds Quentin Tarantino at both his brilliant best and buying into his “genius” worst in this western whodunit.
There’s a great film here, but it’s locked in a losing battle against a longer, more drawn out one. It’s that amazing 15-minute story your friend drags out for an hour. I frequently found myself waiting for the good parts.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of good moments thanks to the stellar cast assembled and Tarantino’s intriguing Clue meets Unforgiven hybrid western mystery.
Samuel L. Jackson (Big Game) stars as Major Marquis Warren, a prolific bounty hunter who stumbles across fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell sporting easily the year’s best mustache) en route to transporting the ruthless criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be executed.
Along the way, they encounter Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), a former Confederate renegade, who claims he’s the new sheriff of the town where Warren and Ruth are collecting their bounties. Only in a Tarantino movie could the die-hard Confederate rebel possibly be considered one of the main protagonists.
After a blizzard derails their efforts to get to Red Rock, the foursome — and stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks) — are forced to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover.
There they encounter a Confederate general (Bruce Dern), a soft-spoken cowboy (Michael Madsen), Red Rock’s executioner (Tim Roth in a role that seemed written just as well with frequent Tarantino collaborator Christoph Waltz in mind). But it’s Bob (Demian Bichir, The Heat), who claims Minnie left him in charge that immediately makes Warren suspicious.
Jackson, no stranger to regular work with 11 roles in the last two years, delivers one of his finest performances. In Maj. Warren, Tarantino has created another in a long line of memorably charismatic characters with some killer dialogue and most of the film’s juiciest moments, but Jackson takes him to another level.
Equal parts detective, provoker, schemer and remorseless, Warren is the film’s driving force and Jackson is blazing down the road with reckless, captivating abandon. Goggins and Russell are able to keep up for the ride, but the rest of the ensemble save late arrival Channing Tatum get saddled with underdeveloped roles. All of the cast have a few great lines, but less than half of the Eight really get to showcase the full depth of their talent.
Ennio Morricone’s score is superb and Tarantino as always finds fitting songs to accompany the film. Tarantino’s longtime cinematographer Robert Richardson has much more to do in the first act in bringing the snow-covered Wyoming mountainside to life. Since the bulk of the film is set in one location, it would have been nice for Richardson to have more opportunities to explore the environment.
At 187 minutes, the story runs out of material before the film concludes. Tarantino desperately needs an editor to cut down scenes that would be better served with some trimming and not going overboard with the dialogue. Thankfully the second act picks up with more humor, actual plot advancement and tons of Tarantino’s signature exaggerated action style.
As was the case in Django Unchained, Tarantino continues to gleefully use the n word like a child learning a new word. It’s far too frequent use is easily the most frustrating aspect of the film. Annoyingly, there was only one character throughout the film that didn’t use it. And it’s not like giving Jackson a prominent role provides Tarantino a pass for using it so casually.
Lack of racial sensitivities aside, this is also Tarantino’s most misogynistic film with repeated scenes of women getting beaten, bloody and in one particularly hard to stomach scene, brutally murdered. That’s a major departure for the filmmaker who’s been such a champion for giving female characters weightier roles than just being a victim.
Tarantino has his next masterpiece in him. The signs are all over The Hateful Eight, but his biggest obstacle at this point remains the lack of restraint. It’s better to have the audience wanting more than giving them way too much and leaving them fatigued from the viewing experience.
Losing 30- to 40-minutes would only improve The Hateful Eight, an often entertaining film that could have been brilliant with less of everything.