Quentin Tarantino claimed in an interview recently that he would like to be considered a Western film director and that you really need to make three for that to happen. In his second foray into the genre, following on from Spaghetti-themed slavery shoot-em-up ‘Django Unchained’, he presents ‘The Hateful Eight’; a mystery story set shortly after the American Civil War which unfolds mostly in just one room. The cast includes a selection of regular collaborators, with Samuel L. Jackson starring as bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren. When en route to local town Red Rock with three deceased outlaws in tow, he encounters John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) and hitches a ride on his stagecoach. Before long, a blizzard strikes and they’re forced to take refuge at a haberdashery where they meet a host of unsavoury characters played by the likes of Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern. Shot in Ultra Panavision 70mm film and with a score by veteran composer Ennio Morricone, the classic Western elements are combined with Tarantino’s signature style in a concoction of wit, spit and bloody bits.
In typical fashion, the narrative is divided into ‘chapters’ which are separated by title cards but the story struggles to come into its own until the third. The opening two serve to establish the setting and get the ball rolling but the dialogue isn’t quite as sharp as we’ve come to expect from Tarantino. Maybe the period in which the film is set limits the screenplay as there’s less room for tangents and no opportunity to pepper conversations with pop culture references. The script this time feels more direct and purposeful, and drives the plot forward, which some might argue is a good thing.
When the titular eight finally come together in the cabin, like the Reservoir Dogs of the Wild West, the brewing tension and entertainment value are noticeably heightened. Because of the length of time spent in one environment, elements of theatre develop and the wider picture cleverly lends itself to this technique. Around this time, the linear structure is toyed with, Tarantino himself featuring as the narrator to add fuel to the flames of the mystery that engulfs the haberdashery. This excellent sense of playfulness and creativity provide the film with its highlights, including a gruesome flashback sequence. As the secret unravels, the running time threatens to outstay its welcome and eventually intelligence makes way for an exaggerated blood-soaked finale.
As Tarantino movies go, ‘The Hateful Eight’ has all of the attributes, good and bad, that we’ve come to associate with the accomplished yet controversial filmmaker. In his confident, self-indulgent creation, he establishes a firmer stronghold on the genre he has borrowed so much from throughout his career. While the story itself is full of villains, it represents the step forward needed for the wannabe hero of neo-Western cinema.