Director Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film and second consecutive Western,The Hateful Eight, is a difficult movie to describe to someone who is not actively watching it. If I were to give a cliff notes version of the film’s influences and plot it would read as a film-nerd-only proposition. It’s a three-hour movie if you include the intermission, and for the majority of the film’s runtime, it’s stuck in one place and the set is used like a stage in a stage play. It uses classic Western composer Ennio Morricone’s non-western scores, including an unused orchestral piece originally meant for Carpenter’s The Thing. Oh, and it’s best seen on a film projector in glorious 70 mm Cinemascope. Does any of that sound appealing to the people who want to go see the new Star Wars picture?
Through all this, Tarantino manages to make an extremely compelling picture, despite all the niche window dressing. I attribute this to the strong stable of actors he has populating the movie. For the purposes of this review, I won’t be using character names, but rather referring to the characters by the actor that played them; I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, which centers around the idea of names and identity at its core. For those wondering the basic premise of the movie is eight very different characters are trapped in one place during a blizzard. Wouldn’t you know it, this creates a powder keg of emotions. Add in the fact that there are no less than 7 guns between them and you got a recipe for some mighty fine violence.
A bounty hunter played by the incomparable Kurt Russell is the first character we meet traveling to a small town in Wyoming. With him we also meet the character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who I believe should be commended for her work throughout the film because she goes through a whole heck of a lot, the least of which is getting punched in the mouth several times in the opening minutes of the movie.
This action brings up a point about Tarantino movies that is often discussed, which is his use of misogyny and racism as paintbrushes to color in characters as a sort of shorthand, offering his worlds a better sense of realism. For example, five minutes into The Hateful Eight the N-word just sounds like a normal part of speech which, to be fair, makes sense as this takes place in a post-Civil War time period. In a way it would be weird not to have the N-word mentioned a bunch, because then you’re dealing with a safe, idealized version of history rather than the heightened, gritty-to-the-point-of-slapstick reality where Tarantino functions best. Samuel Jackson of course turns in a great performance here to the surprise of no one. His character commands the most presence in a room full of actors turning in some of their best work. Micheal Madsen and Tim Roth also appear making this movie like old home week for 90s Tarantino actors.
When you watch this movie, and I do recommend highly that you watch this movie because I think it’s Tarantino’s best movie of the 2000s,keep in mind the themes of honesty and justice, the two ideas at the core of this slow, but ultimately rewarding narrative.