Let me preface this review with this: I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. Pulp Fiction is probably my favorite movie of all-time and I think he’s probably the best screenwriter working today. That said, The Hateful Eight is a great addition to the 2015 film canon, but in terms of Tarantino, this is a middle-of-the-road outing. Regardless, this is still, to me, the sixth-best film of 2015 and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had with the movie.
If we’re going to complain about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens cribbing its plot from the original film, I think we need to at least acknowledge that The Hateful Eight borrows at least a little bit from Tarantino’s first directing job, Reservoir Dogs. It’s essentially a stage-play, as nearly all of it takes place in a single room. It’s not a slight in the least: I think Tarantino has always written well enough to adapt to a live performance, but there is a feeling of stagnation that partway through the film, right before the intermission. It’s a showcase to how well Tarantino can write dialogue, but I can’t help but feel like there’s missed opportunities because of how small the film plays.
The plot is quite simple: a whole lot of people gather in an outpost during a blizzard in the post Civil War Rockies. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter bringing Daisy (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) to Red Rock in order to hang and collect $10,000. With that kind of money, Ruth is not about to trust anybody he’s stuck at the outpost with. It’s a cavalcade of unsavory characters, including a British hangman (Tim Roth), the possible new Sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Goggins), an old Confederate general (Bruce Dern), Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichier), an antisocial cowboy (Michael Madsen), and Samuel L. Jackson (Himself). The rest of the film is each character feeling each other out, keeping one eye on everyone and each with a hand on a gun.
The performances here are really what are on display. There’s hardly a weak link in the entire cast (eh, maybe Michael Madsen), but at different moments, the film becomes Kurt Russell’s, then Samuel L.’s, and finally Walton Goggin’s. These three actors really get the chance to show off how they can handle a Tarantino script and they all shine equally. There are times Russell dips a little too far into a John Wayne impression, but overall, these three guys rise to the top.
My biggest disappointment in the film has to do with my love of westerns and the fact that much was made about this movie being shot in 70mm, and they both have to do with the fact that this movie only takes place in one location. I would’ve really loved to see the vistas that we see in the beginning more often in 70mm (I saw this film in the roadshow presentation before the wide release). To have this take place in a log cabin essentially, just feels like a missed opportunity. If he were to do this, I think there are other movies in his filmography that would have benefitted from more: Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill Vol. 1 just to name a few. And as a western fan, I was geeked out when I heard that Tarantino would be taking on a traditional western, but really, you can copy and paste this story into a number of different eras and illicit the same effect. This could have taken place in the bar from Inglourious Basterds just as easily as it did at Minnie’s Haberdashery.
Criticisms aside, this is a fun movie and a great movie-going experience. Tarantino is always able to put together high art schlock and this is him at nearly his most schlocky. The violence is really hardcore here, as there are even more shootings of male crotches to add to Tarantino’s repertoire. The dialogue is sharp and darkly funny and arguably one of his best.
A good Tarantino outing is still a great movie by comparison to everything else that Hollywood churns out. It’s no Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds (which I would consider his second-best movie), but it’s fun, hilarious at times, and just plain brutal.