Westerns are not the most popular film genre these days, with the exception of Quentin Tarantino’s previous movie, Django Unchained. Tarantino has certainly not been all quiet on the western front and has created The Hateful Eight, a mystery western. His films are known to successfully combine and play with film genres, and along with his witty dialogue, his talent has made him a household name. He certainly got Melbourne excited when he, Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell recently visited Melbourne.
Bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks) are traveling through the Wyoming countryside on his way to deliver his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Lee) to the town of Red Rock. Along the way, he picks up fellow bounty hunter and acquaintance Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and the new Sheriff of Red Rock Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Ruth starts thinking this is too much of a coincidence to bump into both of them and immediately gets paranoid about a plan to steal his bounty. A nasty blizzard is approaching, forcing them to stay in a cabin in the countryside. There they meet four other suspicious characters: Bob (Demian Bichir), a new employee of the cabin; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the town’s new hangman; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a quiet passerby; and Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former general in the Confederate army. Everyone becomes suspicious of one another with deadly consequences.
The first hour is a bit slow and there is too much talking at times, I just wanted the characters to get to the point at times. I had this problem with Inglourious Basterds too, so sometimes even Tarantino’s excellent dialogue gets tiresome after a while. The music in this film is exceptional, which is no surprise considering Ennio Morricone was the film’s composer. The piano tune being played during Warren and Smithers’s argument is subtly creepy.
The film’s opening shot is of a wooden Jesus on the cross in the middle of snowy Wyoming covered in snow as the oncoming storm is getting worse. This image and the music really set up the sense of absolute dread that you are about to feel for the next three hours (so make sure you go to the toilet before heading into the theatre). This shot alone shows you’re in for a visual and creepy treat. As I was watching it, I kept thinking The Hateful Eight was like a western version of The Thing, and I wasn’t surprised to find out on the internet that Tarantino had this thought process while writing the film. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Kurt Russell also starred in The Thing.
Being a Tarantino film, the acting is of course top notch. It has to be said though, while everyone was excellent, Jennifer Jason Lee was the standout among a mostly male cast. Despite being female, there was nothing soft or feminine about Daisy (what an ironic name!). She is a quiet and calculating woman; you don’t know what she’s thinking, but her nasty stares speak a lot louder and harsher than words ever could. She’s one of those actresses that has always had a great presence on the screen, even going back to the start of her career in the classic teen flick Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It’s no wonder she’s been nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this film (let’s hope she wins!).
Perhaps The Hateful Eight‘s greatest strength is the mystery the characters are trying to figure out, and see how it unravels. Everyone is a suspect, and you won’t be able to help yourself from trying to figure out who is innocent and who is not who they say they are. Although I now know how the story unfolds, this is a film that will make you come back to be caught up in the mystery all over again and will get even better the more you watch it.
Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Monday 1 February 2015