The Hateful Eight – 2015
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Lee Horsley, Zoë Bell, James Park, Gene Jones, Dana Gourrier
That actors save their best performances for Quentin Tarantino is certainly not a surprise. That he continues to pull new good actors from the fringes is even less of a surprise. Samuel L. Jackson is consistently the best actor in the world when he boldly announces Tarantino’s words, even the one that Spike Lee doesn’t want him to use. This movie is no exception on that front, but he gets a lot of help here, too.
The genius within The Hateful Eight is that one never does secure a sense of balance. Even though the film takes place in a small, rickety inn for much of its three hour running time, there is nothing in the film that amounts to a sure thing as the eight of the title becomes seven, six, five…etc.
The bare essence of a story that only exists as bare essence is Kurt Russell as bounty hunter John Ruth, also known as “The Hangman.” Give you two guesses and a biscuit if you can figure why he has that name. When he comes across Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren just ahead of a blizzard, they have a discussion about their shared trade of hunting bounties. Warren, sitting atop a pile of dead bounties when we see him, first prefers the more certain thing of carrying the dead. Russell, for philosophical reasons, but really more as a contrivance of plot, prefers to watch them hang.
John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth: No one said this job was supposed to be easy.
Major Marquis Warren: Nobody said it’s supposed to be that hard, either!
But hard it has to be, so onward they go, until the blizzard stops them from getting to their destination of Red Rock. Instead, they land at Minnie’s Haberdashery. They find that Minne (Gourier) and her constant, lazy companion Sweet Dave (Jones) have left a Mexican named Bob (Bachir) in charge while she went to visit her ill mother. Most people will be able to piece together the chances of this being true, especially since it takes place in the third of six chapters. There is still a long way to go, but don’t start patting yourself on the back yet, genius.
That we find the rest of the eight there helps us to settle in with the characters to wait out the storm as tensions rise inside. The best scene in Tarantino’s last film, Django Unchained, takes place in the dining room. The terseness of the dialogue is matched only by the thoughts running through everyone’s head, made delightfully obvious by their demeanor and their faces. For anyone who enjoyed that scene, The Hateful Eight should be an utter delight.
The last two acts of the film take place like a vise slowly increasing its grip on the viewer. Every time one thinks they have sure footing on what’s going on, Tarantino yanks on the rug just enough so it’s necessary to reestablish footing. Some of this is predictable, yes. Some of this is built on plot holes and gaps in logic by the characters. None of this matters because when you are experiencing the journey from Tarantino’s script to his camera lens, it’s easy to get caught up in the rapture of the process.
The cast is remarkable. There is not one bad or even mediocre performance. If I have a blind spot in movies (who’s counting?) it is definitely Samuel L. Jackson. He’s the only reason I even watch Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones anymore. The Tarantino / Jackson movie marriage is one of the best things I have ever experienced watching film. It’s more than Jules Winnfield by a longshot. Here is no exception. Jackson captures the movie with his wise and ruthless Warren. It pays to keep your eyes and ears trained to the Major, but not at the expense of watching his surroundings.
Leigh’s role as prisoner Daisy Domergue is rife with opportunity, and of course she makes the most of it. Her performance is less a victim and more catbird. She comes across more powerfully than the man that has her in chains. She’s funny and menacing both. Her increasing number of ailments throughout only add to the thought of the punishment that would be inflicted once she is unbound.
That Russell is the one delivering the punishment with her in chains makes it somewhat certain that at some point that circumstances will change. His job here is a tough one, because no one ever expects the prisoner at the start of a story to stay one throughout. He chews almost as much scenery as Jackson and Leigh, however. The camera still, after all of these years, loves that aged denim countenance.
That Tarantino misses some spots in his storytelling is obfuscated by his talent for tension building. For every moment one wonders how in the heck a certain character missed a certain clue, we are treated to incredible dialogue and a penchant for human observations one will not find anywhere else. He is not my favorite filmmaker, but his quality is ever constant and never diminishing. He long ago shed the wunderkind moniker and moved into the role of auteur. His energy is fresh as ever, even as his imitators have long ago stopped getting budgets for new projects.
The Roadshow aspect of the film is an example of his obsessive love for movie history. If it seems like overkill to some, it seems a fitting tribute to the art for others. I know I will be keeping my program, since it might be the last one we see in 50 years.
Is The Hateful Eight his best? No, that will always be Jackie Brown, I think. It’s right there near the top. They are really hard to rank after #1. They all seem like different parts to the whole. If you are a fan or just appreciate the art, give this one your attention as soon as you can find a 70mm screen. It’s worth it.
(****1/2 out of *****)