Note: Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film arrived in Australia a week ahead of its general release in a special Roadshow format. Presented in 70MM Panavision and running a full twenty minutes longer than the theatrical release, the Roadshow Presentation included a souvenir brochure, fifteen-minute intermission and an overture to kickstart the proceedings. Six cinemas in Australia are showing The Hateful Eight in this format and this review is of a screening at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville.
Set not long after the end of the American Civil War, The Hateful Eight follows bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he transports his profitable quarry, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the town of Red Rock where she is due to be hanged. Along the way, they meet fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and prospective sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), when they are waylaid by an unforeseen blizzard. The quartet, plus their stagecoach driver O.B., seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery knowing that the inclement weather will force them to hole up for a few days. As the storm closes in, paranoia and suspicion prevail, and the bounty hunters and their fellow guests begin to understand that perhaps all is not as it seems.
The Hateful Eight follows a similar template to Tarantino’s debut, Reservoir Dogs, as the story unfolds, more or less, in real time, punctuated by flashbacks to fill in the gaps and build character. Due to its dialogue-heavy first half and economical setting, The Hateful Eight could work in many ways, just as well as a stage play as it does a movie. And it is interesting that Tarantino should return to this format and deliver what is arguably his most satisfying movie since Kill Bill.
At its core The Hateful Eight is a whodunit – almost like a Cluedo board game come to life – when the eponymous eight gather together in one room, Agatha Christie style, in order for treachery to be revealed. It is also a bloody tale of paranoia and duplicity. The Hateful Eight might have its grandiose Panavision landscapes and its exquisite Morricone score, but the beating heart of exploitation cinema still pounds in its chest – it is a Tarantino movie after all.
As the music to a Tarantino movie is as integral to the experience as the dialogue and the violence, it would be remiss not to mention the fantastic score by the renowned Ennio Morricone. Morricone crafted 50 minutes of music for The Hateful Eight, in addition to music he composed for, but was never used in, John Carpenter’s The Thing (coincidentally also starring Kurt Russell). It works perfectly.
Performance wise there is really just a wealth of riches on offer. From the legendary Kurt Russell, to the excellent Walton Goggins, to Samuel L. Jackson in badass mode. If there is a standout, however, then it must be Tim Roth who is quite, quite brilliant. As haughty English hangman Oswaldo Mobray he steals every scene he’s in, and has gigantic fun in doing so. Jennifer Jason Leigh is predictably excellent in what is the only significant female role of the movie, and Bruce Dern rounds things out with a touch of class as ageing Confederate General Sandy Smithers.
If there is a weak point, then it’s probably the post-intermission voiceover, which feels largely unnecessary. But ultimately there is very little to fault in Tarantino’s marvellous western. From the stunning panoramic landscapes and mountain ranges, to the score, to the performances. The dialogue sparkles and the bloodshed saturates. The Hateful Eight is funny, violent and utterly absorbing.