“It was Tarantino, in the cabin, with the revolver.” In what is basically a western whodunit Quentin Tarantino collects a group of rather unpleasant characters, plops them in an Agatha Christie And Then There Were None plot line, adds expletives and gore, then stirs occasionally. Taking popular genres and giving them a visceral twist is something fans of Quentin Tarantino have come to expect for that is the Tarantino way. But does it always work?
If someone were to complain to me that a Tarantino film was too talky I’d first have to ask them, “Have you seen a Tarantino film before?” Characters having long monologues dates right back to Reservoir Dogs and The Hateful Eight owes much to that film for all you have to do is swap out warehouse with western cabin and the dynamic is much the same. If you’ve seen Django Unchained it’s not hard to tell what westerns influenced Tarantino and like it The Hateful Eight screams Sergio Leon and the spaghetti westerns he created. As the title of this latest Tarantino films suggests there are in fact eight characters all with degrees of hate and motivation, possibly more than eight, but unlike in say The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly there is no real Clint Eastwood analogue, all of the main characters are pretty nasty pieces of work, just of varying degrees.
Much has been talked about the misogynistic nature of some Tarantino’s films, and poor Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) does taking a beating in this one, but the thing is she isn’t some poor western damsel being treated poorly because she is a woman. She is mean, she is racist, and she is as nasty as anyone else in this film, and at no point in this film do we doubt she deserves to be taken in to have her day with the hangman. If this movie had been about the transporting of a male criminal there certainly wouldn’t have been this controversy about Kurt Russel’s character elbowing said person in the face. We may not find out what exact crimes she committed to get her the death sentence, but as the film unfolds it’s clearly not for double parking her horse.
So what exactly is this movie about? Well the first half hour is a stagecoach ride with John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) who is taking Daisy to Red Rock for her hanging. Ruth is an old school bounty hunter that trusts no one, but believes in taking prisoners in alive even when killing them would be safer, as he states, “No one said this job was supposed to be easy.” This makes him about the most honorable of the “Hateful Eight” (with the exception of maybe the stagecoach driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks), even if his treatment of a prisoner is not the best. On route they come across fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) whose horse died while transporting three dead bounties of his own, and now he needs a ride before the blizzard arrives and kills him. A short while later they meet up with another hapless soul lost in the snow, only this one is not a fellow bounty hunter but Captain Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) a rebel renegade whose family and friends kept up the killing of blacks long after the war was over, but who now claims to have taken the position of sheriff in Red Rock.
When they arrive at the stagecoach passover called Minnie’s Haberdashery they encounter four more strangers; Bob “The Mexican” (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth doing his best Christoph Waltz impression), cowpuncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and ex-General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). John Ruth is quick to assume that one, if not more of this group, is in league with Daisy, but he means to get her to Red Rock for execution despite weather or evil intentions. As this movie is at its heart a “murder mystery” I’ll stay away from spoilers, but I will say that Samuel L. Jackson does make for an excellent Hercule Poirot, and though Minnie’s Haberdashery is not as lavish a surrounding as say The Orient Express, it is still gorgeous to look at with Tarantino’s regular cinematographer, Robert Richardson, shooting in Ultra Panavision 70mm, and of course it has a hauntingly beautiful score by Ennio Morricone which makes this even more like a Sergio Leon film.
If the film has a failing it’s in the overall structure, which is bloody revenge flick disguised as a western/murder mystery. We are introduced to many a fascinating character, but when the bullets fly, the blood sprays, and the smoke finally settles we are left with not much more than, “Bad shit happens to bad people.” If that is all Tarantino intended he certainly delivered, but some people may be expecting a little more than that in a film running roughly three hours. On the plus side the cast is uniformly fantastic, with Kurt Russell giving a standout performance, as he did earlier in the year with the horror/western Bone Tomahawk, and seeing Russell and Samuel L. Jackson together on screen is more than worth the price of admission.
Trivia Note: There is much in the way of racial slurs in this movie, no surprise there, but as I mentioned earlier this film has a definite Agatha Christie vibe at times, and the original title of And Then There Were None was Ten Little Niggers so no one can say Tarantino is straying too far off topic.