“If he’s a goddamn sheriff, then I’m a monkey’s uncle!” exclaims John “The Hangman” Ruth in reference to Chris Mannix. Daisy Domergue replies, “Good, then you can go share bananas with your nigger friend in the stable!”
Quentin Tarantino has become one of America’s best auteurs over roughly the last 25 years with films such as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained. With the exception of the short film he contributed to the awful anthology feature Four Rooms, his movies have been well-received critically and for the most part financially. Tarantino is kind of like a great remix artist; he can take a mix of different genres, mash them up together, and make them feel fresh to audiences. For his latest film, he mixes the Western with a paranoid thriller (John Carpenter’s The Thing was a clear influence on this film) filled with familiar Tarantino faces. I missed out on Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight during its original theatrical run (I had really wanted to see the roadshow version, which was presented in 70mm film and contains an overture, an intermission, and some additional footage). I finally got to see it in 70mm on the big screen recently at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York as part of their 70mm film series, and it was an incredible experience.
2015’s The Hateful Eight follows two bounty hunters (one of whom has a live bounty) who stop at a stagecoach lodge during a blizzard in 1870s Wyoming. They encounter five other lodgers who may or may not be who they claim to be, and paranoia spreads quickly as the blizzard worsens. Tarantino assembled a terrific cast that included Samuel L. Jackson (as Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (as John “The Hangman” Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (as Daisy Domergue), Walton Goggins (as Chris Mannix), Demian Bichir (as Bob), Tim Roth (as Oswaldo Mobray), Michael Madsen (as Joe Gage), Bruce Dern (as General Sanford Smithers), James Parks (as O.B. Jackson), Channing Tatum (as Jody Domergue), Dana Gourrier (as Minnie Mink), Zoe Bell (as Six-Horse Judy), and Gene Jones (as Sweet Dave). Jackson and Russell are excellent as truly mean bounty hunters who form an alliance to protect each other’s bounties, especially after one of them realizes that one of the lodgers isn’t who they claim to be. Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Leigh is cunning and resilient as the prisoner who may or may not be in league with one of the lodgers. Goggins, Bichir, Roth, Madsen, and Dern turn in top-notch performances as well.
The screenplay by Tarantino slowly builds the paranoia that comes to haunt the strangers staying at the lodge. It’s also quite humorous in spite of all the despicable acts that occur, and even though the scenes are long, Tarantino fills them with dialogue that can keep viewers hooked (as he always does). Robert Richardson’s Oscar-nominated cinematography is breathtaking and foreboding, having been shot on Ultra Panavision 70 and Kodak Vision 3 70mm film. The makeup design by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger is entertainingly gruesome, and Courtney Hoffman’s costume designs successfully recreate the garb of the period. Yohei Taneda’s production design is incredible (the main set for Minnie’s lodge gives the film an almost theatrical feel and almost feels like another character).
Fred Raskin’s editing keeps the film moving nicely and never feels long despite its lengthy running time. Ennio Morricone delivers an Oscar-winning score (the first original score to grace a Tarantino film) that highlights the dread that awaits at the lodge (The Thing, which had also been scored by Morricone 33 years earlier, was a strong influence on this score). Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is an enjoyable, Oscar-winning display of what we’ve come to expect in a Tarantino film: over-the-top violence, disturbing humor (including frequent use of the word ‘nigger’), and outstanding performances. Although the influence of John Carpenter’s The Thing is most evident in the writing, the claustrophobic setting (including the weather conditions), and the music, this is still very much a Tarantino film.