In his past two movies, Quentin Tarantino went wider in scale than he ever had before, allowing Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained to depict the time period their stories were set in an appropriately sweeping manner. One got a sense of the scale of depravity that Nazi’s and slave owners in these movies were inflicting on individuals via the scope that each plot possessed. Now, with his newest film, The Hateful Eight, Tarantino goes smaller, much much smaller. Much more in the vein of Reservoir Dogs, The Hateful Eight sticks to one location for the majority of its run time and centers itself on eight morally dubious individuals existing a few years after the Civil War has concluded. And none of these eight fellows can be trusted.
Why are they all stuck together in this singular environment? Well, a blizzard has forced them all into Minnie’s Haberdashery, a place where they can all stay until the storm blows over. These eight residents are Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), future sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). runner of the Haberdashery Bob (Damian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). And when you toss all of these fellows into one confined area for an extended period of time, well, tempers are bound to flare up.
With a story structure that’s taking a cue from Agatha Christie, the script by Tarantino has lured a murderer’s row of excellent actors to play the various illicit souls in The Hateful Eight, and thankfully, none of em drop the ball in the acting department. That’s a relief considering how reliant the entire feature is on the sundry of conflicts that emerge from the eight individuals bouncing off each other. Top marks must go to Jennifer Jason Leigh, who gets some of the features most memorable moments, and a delightful Walton Goggins, who couldn’t be more of a pastiche of a “good o’l southern boy” unless he was sipping on sarsaparilla throughout his screentime.
Impounded into a solitary domain for a better part of the feature allows Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson ample opportunity to show true inventiveness when it comes to visually depicting the interior of the Haberdashery without the style of the movie descending into repetition nor having the placement of the camera taking precedent over the features characters and story. Tarantino obviously wants to pay homage to the films of the past that he adores (hence the 70mm Roadshow presentation) but he doesn’t want that to come at the cost of creating a new film future generations can similarly cherish.
Having pretty much every figure who waltzes into The Hateful Eight be a figure of loathsome character might have come across as overwhelming in another filmmakers hand, and for some viewers, it may be too much, I freely admit. For me though, I found it actually kind of masterful how The Hateful Eight managed to suck me into it’s realm of overwhelming degeneracy and keeping me invested for the entirety of its running time. Yes, every person in the film is of considerable immortality, but there’s never an attempt to play any of the characters in the film as “kewl antiheroes” or “misunderstood loners”. Tarantino presents an unflinching look at the human incarnations of vice and asks for us to watch them turn on each other as tensions in the small location mount. There is no good guy audience POV character we can turn to to avert our eyes from the incessant vileness of this films cast, no, he wants us to gaze upon the wickedness and realize the very real places their reprobate nature stems from.
That’s another advantageous part of the movie, the fact that it’s conveying grander themes in the character dynamics of these nefarious characters, specifically the interactions between Smithers, Mannix (both of these guys fought for the Confederacy) and Warren. Trust me, if you felt Tarantino saying cops shouldn’t kill innocent unarmed African-Americans was too politically charged, you’ll need smelling salts before the twenty minute mark. For the rest of us, we can all enjoy the 70mm malicious glory of The Hateful Eight.
(And yes, that’s my playbill from the 70mm screening of Hateful Eight I attended. The film looked great and I’m pleased to report that there was nary a technical hiccup during my 70mm screening of the feature!)