Book a Stay at Minnie's Haberdashery this Christmas!

The Hateful Eight
(USA, 167 min. wide release / 187 min. roadshow)
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
Samuel L. Jackson stars in The Hateful Eight, an Entertainment One release.
Photo: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP

Seven is lucky number. Sometimes it’s even magnificent. Add one more digit to the pot, however, and one has a whole other kettle of fish.

Quentin Tarantino returns to the world of the western and he ups the ante with The Hateful Eight. This blood-soaked drama is one of Tarantino’s better films. The film puts him back in the saddle after 2012’s Blaxploitation spaghetti western Django Unchained, and this effort brings oodles of film geekery galore. It’s a fine homage to the world of the western and an even greater addition to it.

Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight goes bigger and bolder as it hits select theatres in a pimped-out roadshow edition that screens with an overture and an intermission. The film doesn’t really need an intermission, since it isn’t much longer than most of Tarantino’s other films are—it’s only minutes longer than Django. The addition of the overture is a nice touch and one that western fans will relish as they sit and enjoy the original work by Ennio Morricone, the same man whose cues give some of cinema’s most iconic westerns their character. The roadshow also highlights the wonderful 70mm cinematography by Robert Richardson, which makes a grand case for the superior warmth and texture of film over digital as The Hateful Eight fires into action with sweeping landscapes and rich atmospheres. The 70mm touch is a fine bit of direction on Tarantino’s part, for The Hateful Eight does more than tip its hat to the medium to which it pays homage. Instead, it brings film back to life.

Audiences who catch The Hateful Eight in its wide release on DCP without the roadshow features are neverthless still in for a treat. The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s most intimate and claustrophobic film since the contained ensemble of his breakout Reservoir Dogs, which boasts a similar odd-one-out premise, but it’s firmly rooted in the grand scope of cinephilia like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. The sharp screenplay offers some of Tarantino’s most literature dialogue and some of his richest, strangest, and wildest characters. Tarantino's signature effed-up approach to tragedy is like the love child of Agatha Christie and Sergio Leone that has its eye on a body count to rival Hamlet.

The premise of the film is simple: put eight nefarious characters (plus one unsuspecting coach driver) in a room and let them snuff out which of them is putting the jump on the others. The cast includes Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former Union soldier turned bounty hunter who hitches a ride to town from a fellow bounty hunter whilst carrying a load of stiffs to the bank. Said contemporary is John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a meaner cuss of a bounty hunter who, unlike Marquis, favours live catches over dead ones and likes to watch 'em hang once he claims the purse. Roth travels with his current catch Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the leader of the notorious Domergue Gang. En route to Red Rock, where both men aim to cash in their bounty, the travellers brave an oncoming storm and shoot the shit Tarantino style. Along the way, they pick up lone westerner Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a foe from Warren’s days in the army, who claims to be the sheriff of Red Rock whom the bounty hunters need to fulfill their rewards.

A wrathful blizzard turns the Wild West lily white, however, and the three voyagers and their coachman make a pit stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery where they plan to weather the storm. Something immediately seems off to Warren (who becomes like the audience’s eye as The Hateful Eight progresses) since Minnie and her husband are nowhere to be found at their stagecoach stopover. Instead, the haberdashery runs under the eye of Mexican mumbler Señor Bob (Demián Bichir), who claims Minnie left him to tend to the stead. Add three guests to the mix—Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock; rancher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen); and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern)—and The Hateful Eight has an octet of shady characters. The storm worsens overnight and so too does the meanness and grit of these outlaws as they size each other up and realize that the likelihood of leaving the haberdashery alive dwindles by the hour.

The Hateful Eight recedes from the wide scope of the frontier into the world of the chamber drama as the players suss out their fellow boarders within the four walls of Minnie’s Haberdashery. The generic elements of the western complement the atmosphere of containment as codes of honour and notions of justice pass down from the western and exist in limbo in The Hateful Eight as the lodgers trade stories about their dirty deeds from the past and get a sense of each person’s more and ethical character—or his or her capacity for evil that makes one the likely agent of the inevitable twist that awaits them. Jackson’s Marquis Warden is an atypical westerner as he holds the highest morals in the room (but that doesn’t say much) as he makes no bones about the men he’s killed or the awful things he’s done to get to his present situation. Furthermore, as the lone black man in a white man’s game, Warden gets to sit in a saddle rarely occupied by actors of colour as The Hateful Eight further plays against convention by casting Jackson as the lead. The Hateful Eight improves upon the problematic treatment of race from Django Unchained and the film defiantly rolls its eyes at criticisms of Tarantino’s overuse of the word “nigger” with a tongue-in-cheek jab of film geek entitlement by having characters call out the political incorrectness of the word any time someone throws a slur at Warden.

Jackson gives a strong performance as Warden by occupying a hilariously badass persona of the shrewd and honourable gunslinger. Eloquent and near-theatrical in his oration, Jackson’s Warden is an amicable cuss and a likeable man in spite of the fact that he kills people for a living. Much like he did in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino humanizes outlaws and criminals through elevated dialogue that gives them thoughts, feelings, and flairs they rarely receive.

The cast is excellent overall and the actors function greatly as an ensemble. Working with the definitions and parameters of each character, the actors create a whisky-soaked harmony and a wide canvas of grey space as The Hateful Eight embellishes the ambiguity of the characters. Nobody in particular can be trusted and everyone seems more suspect the more the film makes them likable. The only one who ever seems fully on the level is John Roth, as Russell plays the ruthless bounty hunter as a man who falls by his overblown sense of pride: whereas others puff themselves up to mask their true selves, Russell’s performance lets Roth’s panache for showboating be his downfall.

Jennifer Jason Leigh steals the show acting just inches away from Russell as Daisy sits cuffed to the wrist of her captor. Leigh gives a fearless performance as the mischievous Daisy. Leigh takes punches to the face like a champ as outlaw after outlaw in The Hateful Eight gives her a five-finger reminder to shut her foul mouth. As the bodies pile up, too, Daisy finds herself splattered with the blood and brains of her peers. The redder she gets, the wilder she becomes: Leigh eats the role like a wolf with its muzzle gnashing into its prey with her coarse, lip-smackingly good turn as the shrewd calculator.

Daisy’s eyes dart around the room and find any angle to turn fortune into her favour as she and Warden gradually become the opposing forces of the film. The Ultra Panavision 70mm film (an obscure format not used since the 60s) works especially well in this regard by framing both Russell and Leigh side by side: the wide and busy frame makes some observe two characters who read every situation differently. It’s a very involving watch and Tarantino’s use of space, framing, and screen performance, frankly, is thrilling stuff.

The details of the production, like air cold enough to catch the actors’ breath, give the film additional scope and richness in its winter western setting. The music by Ennio Morricone adds a sinister atmosphere and fills the few pauses in Tarantino’s firecracker dialogue with ample tension. The Hateful Eight is, most of all, spectacularly fun entertainment. The sprightly screenplay keeps the mood alternatively tense and light, and the humour of the film amplifies the explosive violence that arrives once the storm goes full throttle. Book a stay at Minnie's Haberdashery this winter, for The Hateful Eight is one of the meanest and meatiest films of the season.

Rating: ★★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

The Hateful Eight opens in Toronto and Vancouver on Dec. 25 in 70mm Roadshow Presentations.
It opens in wide release from eOne Films on Dec. 31.