Bounty hunter John Ruth carries the captured Daisy Domergue to Red Rock, so she can be hanged. He gets stuck in a blizzard and has to share a cabin for a night with seven other sinister people, who also may be after the price on Daisy’s head.
Tarantino’s films are getting longer and longer. To watch his latest work, The Hateful Eight, isn’t so much seeing a movie, but more like spending a whole day in the old Wild West. The length is creeping upwards because his dialogues are getting longer, his shots are lingering more, and his actors are pronouncing their lines slower. And secretly… secretly I think it is because he has less and less to tell.
The Hateful Eight is pushing the limits. The talking is verbose and slow, the story is small, but the film maintains enough tension to stay interesting throughout its running time. It tries its utmost to feel like a spaghetti western of old, complete with music by Ennio Morricone and an old typeface title. It sure entertained me. Is it good? I don’t know yet. It is something, alright, and what it is, is extreme. It’s an extreme show of ponderous yet captivating dialogue and violence.
Tarantino’s skills as a director shine through, no question about it. The actors all give amazing performances, no doubt guided by Tarantino’s wishes. The camera shifts around the room from actor to actor, sometimes keeping two people in simultaneous focus. The angles and the compositions of the shots are great. All these touches make the film very effective in everything that it tries to accomplish.
The Hateful Eight is set during a chilling blizzard and you can just feel the cold. The troublesome door of the cabin is a nice touch because it makes the characters struggle to keep the cold out, and that connects nicely with the coffee and food that is going to play a role in the film. The tension between the people and the search for the traitor is also very effectively done. We meet all the characters and they all get enough screentime to stick in our memory, and the dialogues very nicely sketch out the backgrounds of these people.
The real jewels of the film can be found in the acting. Especially Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth are perfect in their roles, but they are just the first that come to mind. Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh carry their key roles with passion. The screenplay is typical Tarantino in that some parts of the story are like short stories in themselves, with mini-climaxes before the film moves on to the next act. This does improve the replay value of the film.
The film comments a lot on the history of the US, on the attitudes towards black people and Mexicans, and tensions between the north and the south. In the end, though, when Tarantino’s violence breaks out, all those alignments break up and the film laughs and spits in the face of prejudice. At the same time, the violence, the blood and gore and gloating, it tries to be as perverse as possible.
In the end, I wish there was more to this story. The cabin is a good location, perfect for a game of whodunit. But it also feels too simple in setup, especially compared to Tarantino’s previous films. Django Unchained (2012) was also a long film, but more happened. We saw more locations, more characters, more striking scenes. This makes The Hateful Eight’s length feel more excessive and less justified. Tarantino is now in danger of being seen as a director who is becoming overly reliant on certain gimmicks, but we shouldn’t forget the craftsmanship with which the film is shot.