Movie Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)
“No one to trust. Everyone to hate.”
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Synopsis: In 1860s Wyoming, a group of strangers – most of whom have secrets to hide – gather in Minnie’s Haberdashery to seek shelter from a snow blizzard.
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Clad in an unwieldy bearskin coat and sporting a truly spectacular moustache, grizzled former child actor Kurt Russell (Executive Decision, Deepwater Horizon) once more hitches his wagon to Quentin Tarantino’s apparently unstoppable juggernaut, trading the gleaming muscle cars of 2007’s Death Proof for the rattling stagecoaches of the Old West. He’s John Ruth, a bounty hunter with more than a hint of John Wayne about him, who prides himself on bringing in his prey alive so that he can watch them swing as he counts his reward money. He’s transporting the delightful Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh – Dolores Claiborne, Morgan), a near-feral wretch with a bounty of $10,000 on her head for crimes that are never specified across Wyoming for a date with the hangman. But their stagecoach is losing a race with the snow blizzard that’s snapping at their heels, leaving them with no choice but to hole up at a remote and rambling barn called Minnie’s Haberdashery
The mismatched pair reluctantly pick up two hitchhikers on the way to Minnie’s. The first is Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson – The Legend of Tarzan, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), a fellow bounty hunter delivering three corpses to Red Rock where he expects to collect a fee of $8,000. He carries with him a letter which he claims is from his pen friend, Abraham Lincoln – a nugget of information which stimulates the interest of most who meet him. The second man is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins – Django Unchained, Machete Kills), the son of a renegade Confederate officer, who claims to be travelling to Red Rock to become its new sheriff. Whether either of these men is being entirely truthful is debatable, because nobody in The Hateful Eight is quite what they seem.
Ruth is suspicious of all the members of the group of fellow travelers they encounter at Minnie’s, while Warren is bemused by the proprietress’s absence. According to Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir – Dom Hemingway), who’s quick to greet them when they pull up outside, Minnie has left him in charge while she visits her mother, but Warren has visited the place often enough to know that Minnie hates Mexicans. Inside, a dapper little Englishman introduces himself as Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth, giving by far the film’s weakest performance), the hangman who will carry out Daisy’s execution when they finally reach Red Rock, while a lone cowboy (Michael Madsen – Kill Bill, Sin City) sitting at a table in the corner claims to be writing his memoirs. Permanently situated in the centre of the store, ageing former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern – 1969, Nebraska) sits before an open fire and makes no secret of his resentment of Warren’s presence.
Tarantino is never in a hurry to tell his tales; he likes to dwell on extraneous details and to flesh out his characters through lengthy spells of seemingly insignificant dialogue. And yet, although The Hateful Eight is nearly three hours long and relies heavily on the verbal interaction of its characters to create atmosphere and build tension, we learn surprisingly little about them. That’s because we can never be sure that they are speaking the truth – in fact, we have to assume they are not, otherwise the movie would have no point – so that Tarantino essentially ends up undermining one of his greatest strengths as a storyteller.
He’s rarely boring though, even when the characters are sharing conversations which appear to be taking them and the plot nowhere, and The Hateful Eight never feels like it’s three hours long. Once again, the director is rewarded with compelling g performances from a group of actors he knows and trusts. Samuel L. Jackson brings a rugged good humour to an otherwise suspicious and mistrustful man, and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch him and Russell sharing screen time. Sadly, Michael Madsen is woefully underused as a quiet cowboy lurking on the periphery of the action much of the time, but Bruce Dern grabs the small amount of screen time allowed him to make an indelible impression while barely leaving his chair. Jennifer Jason Leigh also stands out as the repulsive Daisy Domergue who nevertheless wins some measure of our sympathy because of the disproportionate amount of violence she suffers at the hands of Ruth. This violence against women and his liberal use of the ‘N’ word, appears to be a worrying preoccupation for Tarantino, and is perhaps symptomatic of his tendency to stick with what he knows. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does leave one wondering whether he will ever step out of his comfort zone to make a different kind of movie – or if, in fact, the public would ever allow it.
(Reviewed 12th March 2017)