The ‘90s birthed the careers of a generation of immensely skilled directors. And for whatever reason, when it’s come time for them to make their eighth or ninth movies, each director has repackaged earlier movies of theirs into new originals. Moreover, each of these “victory lap” movies usually have been amazing works of art in their own right, despite covering established territory.
Take David Fincher’s The Social Network. Or Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Even Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises was an incredibly strong film on Nolan’s CV, despite being his third Batman movie. The Hateful Eight is the ninth movie directed by Quentin Tarantino (or eighth, if you count the Kill Bills as one film, like Tarantino does) and it’s a wonderful mash-up of earlier works that holds its own against its brethren.
Tarantino’s first feature, Reservoir Dogs, spent almost its entirety in one building, with a half-dozen bank robbers meeting immediately after a failed heist and turning on each other one by one. His last movie, Django Unchained, tackled the panoramic Western with a post-modern self-awareness and a progressive wink.
The Hateful Eight is an inspired blend of the two hooks, with a bunch of murderous scoundrels holed up in a stagecoach lodge during a three-day blizzard soon after the Civil War, each suspicious of the others and with itchy trigger fingers.
The titular, snowbound octet is comprised of: 1) The Hangman (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter making his way to the town of Red Rock to claim a reward; 2) The Prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), being taken into town by the Hangman; 3) The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), a retired Union soldier with bounties of his own, just looking to hitch a ride into town; 4) The Sheriff (Walton Goggins), the son of a legendary Confederate soldier on his way to be sworn in as Red Rock’s new lawman; 5) The Little Man (Tim Roth), Red Rock’s executioner; 6) The Confederate (Bruce Dern), a retired army general; 7) The Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), a quiet man who seems to know more than he lets on; and 8) The Mexican (Demián Bishir), an even quieter man who seems to be lying right from the start.
To say that the eight volatile personalities combined with the confined space of the setting lead to arguments would be an understatement. While not quite as pervasively violent as Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is still one of the bloodiest Westerns since the heyday of Sam Peckinpah — and perhaps the angriest that’s ever been put to film.
If there’s one thing that has always made Tarantino a masterful storyteller, it’s his peerless voice for dialogue. Caught somewhere between with pop culture references of Kevin Smith and the hyperrealism of Aaron Sorkin, Tarantino’s dialogue has always existed in a class of its own, and The Hateful Eight has some of his best work (complete with a few of his trademark monologues). And the immensely talented cast bring his words to life in ways most writers can only dream about.
Filmed in old-fashioned 70mm, The Hateful Eight is essentially the most gorgeous (and most bloody) one-room play put to film. At any given point, the movie seems about to resort to the cabin fever of locked-in thrillers like Kurt Russell’s own The Thing, but the script smartly always has a better plan, with double-crosses, misdirects, and table turnings aplenty.
If there’s one problem with Tarantino and the film-school crash course he studied during his years as a video store clerk, it’s that he sponged up bad habits along with his good ones. One penchant that has plagued Tarantino all his career is his love of ultraviolence. When dosed out in patient measure, like in Reservoir Dogs — or when taken to its cartoonish extreme, like in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 — it finds a healthy balance, but any other time Tarantino uses brutality, he has a tendency to overdo it.
Sadly, that happens again in The Hateful Eight’s latter half. Once the fuse lit at the start of the picture reaches some narrative gunpowder, the bullets start flying fast and the blood starts spraying faster. The extreme to which the bloodplay is taken here isn’t so far as to be sublimely ridiculous, but too far to seem anything other than superfluous to the insanely rich story Tarantino already set up in the first half.
As it is, The Hateful Eight is lands somewhere in the middle of Tarantino’s films, quality-wise — which especially means nothing when you consider that even the worst Tarantino movies are generally better than anything else out in cinemas. This is no exception. For its few flaws, The Hateful Eight still emerges as an unbelievably exhilarating whodunit, a gorgeously shot thriller, and one of the best bloody movies of 2015.