A wickedly gripping, strangely alluring & downright hysterical blend of The Thing & Reservoir Dogs, the 8th film by Quentin Tarantino is another impressive showcase of his remarkable storytelling ability. Shot in glorious 70 mm format that gives it a grandiose look n feel, the film is all the more strengthened by an outstanding ensemble, and also happens to be the first Tarantino film to feature an original soundtrack, composed by none other than the legendary Ennio Morricone in what is his first composition for a western in over 34 years.
Set in post-Civil War America, The Hateful Eight follows John Ruth who’s taking fugitive Daisy Domergue to Red Rock alive in order to see her hang & collect the substantial bounty on her. On their way, they encounter another bounty hunter who’s seeking a ride to the town. They are soon joined by one more fellow who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. But when their journey is cut short by a severe blizzard, the group is forced to take refuge in a stagecoach cabin where they meet five more people who may or may not be what they claim to be.
Written & directed by Quentin Tarantino, the story of The Hateful Eight is covered in 6 chapters, with all but one unfolding in chronological order. The whole picture is his homage to John Carpenter’s horror masterpiece, sharing many similarities with that classic and despite that, it’s wholly original in content, is overloaded with Tarantino’s patented trademarks, and is presented as a western to its audience. The screenplay puts greater emphasis on the characters inhabiting this tale and is another winning material from the master storyteller, even if it’s a tad too full of itself.
Where Tarantino succeeds is in establishing an effective claustrophobic ambience that brims with palpable tension & persistently looming paranoia. The interplay between characters in a Tarantino feature is almost always interesting and The Hateful Eight is no exception for it has a firm grip on viewers’ attention from the start but there are also a few moments when its narrative starts feeling like it is stretched too much to fit its daunting runtime. No one blends violence & humour as ideally as Tarantino does but thanks to the bleak tone of the story, the balance is slightly off in his latest feature.
The majority of the plot unfolds in Minnie’s Haberdashery, the stagecoach lodge, and the production design team does a commendable job in filling that place up with props that are in tune with its timeline while the snow-covered surroundings steadily bring in the element of isolation. Cinematography is truly epic in both the staggering details of the images filmed in 70 mm format as well as the extreme widescreen aspect ratio it employs to narrate its tale while the cold colour tones, smart lighting, clever angles & slow but fluid movements of its camera help a lot in enhancing the story’s unnerving atmosphere.
Coming to the performances, The Hateful Eight features a terrific ensemble in Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walter Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern & Demián Bichir, all playing characters that are downright despicable, deceitful & driven by hate. Russell nonetheless turns out to be quite charismatic in his role of John “The Hangman” Ruth and is brilliantly supported by Jackson & Goggins who play the bounty hunter & sheriff, respectively. However, of all the hateful people, the most memorable performance comes from Jason Leigh for she’s absolutely manic as Daisy the fugitive plus her chemistry with Russell is absolutely spot-on.
And yet, despite getting most things right, Quentin Tarantino’s latest is marred by a few drawbacks. First, the story he’s written doesn’t live up to the grand canvas it makes use of. Second, its 167 minutes of runtime isn’t justified for many moments feel unnecessarily stretched just to accommodate for its intimidating length. Third, Tarantino’s own cameo as narrator doesn’t fit. Fourth, the excess self-indulgence nearly destroys some sequences, that “Red Apple tobacco” wink being one example. Fifth, the first half feels like a chore due to the slow pace & character introductions but the film picks up amazing well in the remaining half to correct that particular issue. And there’s one more!
The Hateful Eight marks the first time in Tarantino’s filmmaking career that he has made use of an original score instead of incorporating different tracks into one eclectic soundtrack. Music has always played a key role in every Tarantino film and it’s one aspect he’s very careful with, for it can make or break his picture. Now, Ennio Morricone does deliver on that expectation with a full-fledged soundtrack that’s moody, ominous & totally fits the narrative’s themes but the groovy element that Tarantino’s own musical choices brought into those sequences, acting as an antidote to the gruesome violence being perpetrated on the screen while at the same time contributing to the roller-coaster experience, is somewhat missing.
On an overall scale, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is a vicious, violent, vibrant, vindictive & venomous western spewing poisonous hatred all over its frames, is another biting critique of United States’ blood-soaked history, and is possibly the bleakest film he’s made to date. The narrative scores high marks in quality but it’s also blemished with few shortcomings that could’ve been avoided. Starting on a slow note, the film does manage to redeem itself with a nail-bitingly tense second half and finishes on a satisfactory note yet the whole experience of sitting through this western epic isn’t as rewarding as some of Tarantino’s finest works. Ingeniously directed, skilfully scripted, gorgeously photographed, patiently edited, methodically scored & superbly performed by its stellar cast, The Hateful Eight is another compelling cinema from Tarantino that’s destined to please his fans.