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The Hateful Eight Movie Review

The Hateful Eight: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
The Hateful Eight is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

The Hateful Eight (2015) movie poster The Hateful Eight

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2015 / Running Time: 187 Minutes (including 12-minute intermission) / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson (Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (John Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue), Walton Goggins (Chris Mannix), Demian Bichir (Bob), Tim Roth (Oswaldo Mobray), Michael Madsen (Joe Gage), Bruce Dern (General Sandy Smithers), James Parks (O.B. Jackson), Dana Gourrier (Minnie), Zoλ Bell (Six-Horse Judy), Lee Horsley (Ed), Gene Jones (Sweet Dave), Keith Jefferson (Charly), Craig Stark (Chester Charles Smithers), Belinda Owino (Gemma), Channing Tatum (Jody)

Buy The Hateful Eight from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

Well-known for his appreciation and emulation of various film styles, Quentin Tarantino makes his second consecutive western in The Hateful Eight. The distinctive, uncompromising writer-director announced
this as his next project two years ago, cancelled it after the script leaked on the Internet, then changed his mind and decided it to make the movie anyway. However you feel about Tarantino's movies, you've got to be glad he put his vision over the actions of those who leaked the script.

Billed the 8th film by Tarantino in marketing and the opening credits (a count that ignores films he partially directed like Grindhouse, Sin City, and Four Rooms and those he merely wrote, like True Romance), Hateful is what we've come to expect from the filmmaker: extremely violent, absurdly profane, and inspired by a hodgepodge of influences both highbrow and low. The film is set in snowy Wyoming some time before Christmas and several years after the end of the Civil War.

Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is transporting Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman suspected of murder who is worth $10,000 dead or alive. There's no question how Ruth will deliver the outlaw: he is nicknamed "The Hangman" because he always turns in his bounties alive, enabling justice to prevail in the form of a hanging. Reluctantly, Ruth lets Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a Union major who carries around a personal letter from his late pen pal Abraham Lincoln, aboard the six-horse stagecoach that is being pulled through the snowy, mountainous terrain. Also joining the party and being spared a death by freezing is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern rebel who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, the town to which Ruth et al. are headed.

In Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight", bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) loudly brings outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Minnie's Haberdashery in Wyoming en route to the town of Red Rock.

With a severe blizzard looming, the party of five (counting driver O.B.) settles in at Minnie's Haberdashery, where nearly the entire remainder of the film will be spent. There, they meet Red Rock's jolly British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), racist old Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), quiet cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and a squint-eyed named Mexican Bob (Demiαn Bichir, channeling Eli Wallach). These four men all invite various degrees of suspicion from Ruth and Warren, which is justifiable because little is what it seems to be here.

After well over an hour of character development through conversation (with the occasional elbow to the face, almost always directed at the lone woman), Tarantino's taste for violence surfaces in a tense showdown that kills off a character. This being a Tarantino Western, you assume most of these individuals will end up dead. The question is more about in what order and under what conditions they will die.

Our first death is immediately followed by an intermission. That's right; here, Tarantino embraces old methods like never before. There is an overture at the beginning of the film and then, two-thirds in, a 12-minute intermission, like the Roadshow presentations of yore. The film dramatically changes tone in its second act. A narrator starts talking and calls attention to something we had no reason to notice at the end of Act I. Suddenly, Hateful Eight becomes an Agatha Christie mystery and Warren is our Hercule Poirot. When a coffee pot is poisoned, Warren decides conspiracy is afoot and everyone's either a suspect or dead.

The body count predictably rises in a characteristically graphic way. Two characters projectile vomit blood repeatedly before dying. Another is shot in the genitals. One gets their head blown off, as it only can in the movies. No one gets through the film unscathed. Instead of solving the mystery at the very end Christie-style, Tarantino lets us know what's what before returning to Warren's candid and colorful detective monologues that try to reach the same truth.

Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) holds up his guns and his hands while John Ruth considers giving him a ride.

By now, no one can doubt Tarantino's prowess as a director. There was a time when it seemed as if his career, celebrated as so influential and trailblazing in the 1990s mostly on the success of Pulp Fiction,
would fizzle out as he pursued martial arts and B-movie homage to declining returns. Then, 2009's Inglourious Basterds became an unlikely blockbuster, earning him rave reviews and his third and fourth Oscar nominations. He followed that up with 2012's Django Unchained, another film lavished with admiration not just from violence-appreciating young males but also critics, the general public (who made it his second consecutive hit), and the Academy, who awarded him a second Original Screenplay statuette (and Christoph Waltz a second Supporting Actor one). Arriving on Christmas Day from The Weinstein Company, the prestige-driven studio that distributed his previous two Best Picture nominees, Hateful Eight seems destined to extend Tarantino's critical and commercial relevance, despite boycotts that law enforcement agencies have vowed in response to his seemingly ill-timed leadership of police brutality riots.

At the same time, Hateful pushes the boundaries for what is considered a prestige picture. This is one violent film. If you had trouble stomaching the final half-hour of Django Unchained, it may be wise for you to leave at the Intermission or perhaps not show up at all (you could rationalize buying a ticket in that you get more movie before intermission than many new films in full). As a film critic, I have inevitably been desensitized by violence. But I'm still not super comfortable with it. You can never dismiss Tarantino's work simply for its violent content, because his movies simultaneously display a level of craft and a love of the medium that are both rare. Still, you wish his films didn't always have to spew fragments of brain and buckets of blood all over the place.

The first act, which will strike action-hungry viewers as slow and uneventful, does an excellent job of compelling with the characters it builds and the atmosphere it establishes. Hateful assumes the feel of a stage play, as these characters come together in this one place and get to know each other, while the wind howls outside. The blizzard backdrop supplies a hint of a holiday special, from A Muppet Family Christmas to Netflix's recent A Very Murray Christmas. No one here sings Christmas carols, though at one point Daisy does pick up a guitar and sing while others nail the establishment's broken door shut with two pieces of wood as they have to repeatedly throughout.

As in Django, the violence is inevitable and the bloodshed is extreme. Whereas that over-the-top final half-hour did spoil Django for me, Hateful is not as derailed by its carnage. But, it remains a much more interesting film when people are relating to one another without their guns drawn, which applies to most but not all of the first act up until its bizarrely uncomfortable taunt involving a forced fellatio flashback.

That element of character study never disappears even when crimson enters the color palette. These characters are complex and all morally ambiguous. Tarantino remains capable of turning a phrase like few screenwriters can. His stories and dialogue may be full of anachronisms and contemporary themes, but that what it makes them so interesting to today's viewers.

Samuel L. Jackson gets one of his first Lead Actor Oscar campaigns for his role as Major Marquis Warren. Tim Roth reunites with Quentin Tarantino for the first time in twenty years with his turn as jolly little hangman Oswaldo Mobray.

The cast is as uniformly strong as you expect them to be. Every principal gets a chance to shine, though some more than others. After playing a very different kind of character in Django, Jackson is back to being Tarantino's textbook definition of cool. His presence puts a racial spin on things. You are sorely mistaken if you think that Tarantino is going to let criticism of his extensive use of the N-word change him;
if anything, that blood-boiling slur might even be more rampant here than it was in the filmmaker's slavery movie. Jackson, who has appeared in nearly all of the director's movies, clearly approves of Tarantino's word selection and as one of Hollywood's most focal and beloved African-American figures, his opinion would seem to hold more weight than detractors, even his fellow multi-film director Spike Lee.

Russell's presence enforces a thematic link to John Carpenter's classic sci-fi horror film The Thing. In his mid-60s, Russell seems to be on the verge of legend status, but though his career has noticeably thinned in recent years (he hardly acted between Tarantino's Death Proof and this year's Furious 7), this does not quite feel like the revival that Tarantino is credited with extending to John Travolta and, less permanently, Pam Grier and Robert Forster. Though he grants his character some appeal, Russell doesn't fully embody this broad character to the extent that he could.

Roth, reuniting with the director twenty years after making three straight films for him, is a bright spot, getting to put his comic delivery to better use than anything his between-Tarantino career has. Madsen enjoys his own reunion with Tarantino, which briefly rescues him from direct-to-video hell. As the lone woman, Leigh proves to be a good fit for the director and enjoys a small renaissance between this and her formidable role in Charlie Kaufman's acclaimed stop-motion comedy Anomalisa. If anyone in Hateful's strong ensemble cast is destined for an Academy Award nomination, it's Leigh in what is one of the year's rare truly supporting roles of note for women.

The Hateful Eight is not on a surefire track to the Academy Awards. If Tarantino fails to gain entrance into the Original Screenplay and Director categories (which would be understandable after all the shade his controversial interviews have thrown on his peers) and the Best Picture field isn't big enough to support this, the film should likely still compete for Best Cinematography and Best Original Score honors. The former boasts countless striking compositions and deft maneuvers from Robert Richardson, Tarantino's DP since Kill Bill. The latter features brand new music from living legend and 2007 honorary Oscar winner Ennio Morricone, whose iconic spaghetti western themes Tarantino has repeatedly licensed. Most will agree that Morricone's cues are one of the best features of the movie.

Like Christopher Nolan did with Interstellar, Tarantino uses his clout and drawing power to turn The Hateful Eight into a means for extolling the virtues of film over digital projection. The director shot the movie in Ultra Panavision 70 and will have it projected in the long retired 70mm format in around a hundred theaters around the world that are designated to carry a special roadshow edit (which apparently runs 6 minutes longer than the multiplex edit). As I understand it, my critics-only screening gave the full roadshow cut but only in now standard digital projection. Even so, it was clear that, being the utter film geek he is, Tarantino relishes this opportunity to use and promote an old format. You can even imagine him getting giddy about the logos and opening titles he places on the film, unmistakably inspired by those spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and others. One only wishes that in his admiration for the genre, the director would that enduring westerns never devolved into full-on bloodbaths that undercut their storytelling.

Buy The Hateful Eight from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino: Django Unchained • Jackie Brown
Now in Theaters: The Revenant • Joy • Creed • The Big Short • Anomalisa • In the Heart of the Sea
Samuel L. Jackson: The Spirit • Jumper | Kurt Russell: The Art of the Steal • Escape from New York
Michael Madsen: Free Willy | Tim Roth: Skellig: The Owl Man • Broken | Bruce Dern: Nebraska
Once Upon a Time in the West • True Grit (2010)

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Reviewed December 25, 2015.

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