There is no mistaking The Hateful Eight as the work of any director other than Quentin Tarantino. Filled with extreme violence, convoluted characters and crackling dialogue rife with provocative language and profanity, this is everything we have come to expect from a Tarantino flick. Calling upon a bunch of his regular collaborators, Tarantino has produced a period film in which he has again taken some liberties with regard to historical accuracies. This time the action takes place in post-Civil War Wyoming in the midst of a severe blizzard that brings the eight titular characters together for the night as they seek shelter from the storm. This is a disparate and decidedly dodgy group of desperados for whom truth and trust are very fluid concepts. Deceit abounds inside Minnie’s Haberdashery as stories are shared, friendships are formed and lives are lost in Tarantino’s typically flamboyant style. Although very much an ensemble piece, it is the triumvirate of Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh whose actions, and interactions, kick-start a narrative that ultimately unfolds in a brutal, yet not entirely unpredictable, way.
This entertaining tale kicks off when a stage coach enroute to Red Rock transporting John Ruth (Russell, sporting one of the greatest moustaches ever seen on screen) and fugitive Daisy Domergue (Leigh) happens upon Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), whose horse has expired and left him in desperate need of transportation. From the moment Warren climbs aboard, the duplicity, dishonesty and one-upmanship begins, intensifying further when Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) also hitches a ride. The hapless Daisy who, to be fair, is of the criminal persuasion, bears the brunt of their macho posturing and is on the receiving end of several bouts of violence, one of which leaves you feeling guilty at the humour embedded within the moment. With the blizzard in full roar, the quartet and coach driver O.B. Jackson (Michael Parks) take shelter at what seems to be a haberdashery in name only. Met by Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir), who claims to be looking after the place in Millie’s absence, the group discover that they are not the first travellers to take shelter from the weather and soon make acquaintance with Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). Yes, that is nine people all up, but hey, the Hateful Nine just isn’t as catchy. From this point, the action never leaves the confines of the room as introductions are made, rivalries renewed and (tenuous) alliances formed.
As is always the case with Tarantino, the dialogue is what separates his films from the rest. The conversations here are filled with menace, wry humour, fear and uncertainty, and it creates a tension that is palpable. Having said that, The Hateful Eight looks great as well; from the glorious wide shots that emphasise the brutality of the weather to the close-ups within the coach. It is interesting that Tarantino opted to shoot on 70mm – a format well suited to sweeping vistas and landscapes – given that so much of the film is set indoors in a confined space. However, the ultra-wide angles meant that cinematographer Robert Richardson could capture most of the set within the frame at any given time, enabling Tarantino to stage actors all over the place, making the background action within each shot a potential clue and allowing an observant audience to keep track of what everybody is doing.
Some would argue that Tarantino’s penchant for self-indulgence is what makes him great, while others would declare it is biggest flaw as a filmmaker. There are definitely moments where his personal predilections compromise his otherwise impeccable choices and he is at it again here with the flashback sequence that tracks the arrival of Bob, Mowbray, Gage and Smithers to the haberdashery. The inclusion of stuntwoman-turned-actress Zoe Bell, who has worked with the director numerous times before, is a misfire, with her New Zealand accent just one of the many aspects of this character that seem as though they are from a different film altogether. It seems as though the inclusion of this character is as much about Tarantino’s fondness for Bell than anything else and, much like the scene in Django Unchained that seemingly exists for no other reason than to allow Tarantino to work alongside Aussie veteran John Jarrett, it is the only low point in an otherwise excellent film. Given the myriad dramas that preceded production and almost saw the film mothballed, Tarantino has put the ruckus behind him to deliver another highly provocative and eminently entertaining drama that, like everything he has done before, is filled with characters who are ostensibly bad but somehow utterly likeable. Tarantino has never allowed himself to be confined by the expectations of anybody and for that we should be thankful. He makes the films he wants to make and he makes them bloody well.