Set just after the American civil war, the story sees the bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) pick up fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and die hard confederate Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) en route to Red Rock, Wyoming, to ensure the execution of fiendish criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). A blizzard then forces them to stay over the night in Minnie’s haberdashery where things begin to heat up. As well as these four we then meet the other four outlaws who make up ‘the hateful eight’ in what becomes a vicious cocktail of renegades in a confined wooden shack amid a snowstorm; a Big Brother in the wilderness – where none of the eight are an obvious moral compass.
The narrative takes the shape of a mystery drama where Major Warren must assume the role of detective to solve the most barbaric game of cluedo you’re ever likely to see. All sorts of vices are on show in the haberdashery from characters a variety of different backgrounds – or so they say. This is where the choice of shooting with a 70mm wide angle lens is inspired, giving the audience a peripheral vision which adds suspicion and paranoia to their emotional palette. The gradual removal of their alter ego masks, by means of a chess match like dialogue, transpires into the kind of violence we’ve come to expect from Tarantino.
The violence in The Hateful Eight holds a contemporary resonance. Much has been made of film violence in recent years, particularly Tarantino’s, and The Hateful Eight is no exception. Major Warren’s admission that ‘black folks are safe when the white folks are disarmed’ seems particularly prescient in light of recent racially charged crimes and the attempt of the U.S. senate at overhauling gun laws. It would take an incredibly introverted artist to not reflect contemporaneity in their work; something that Tarantino, a man outspoken about race and police brutality in the U.S., isn’t. In response to the film’s strong opinions on police brutality, many police unions have pledged to boycott the film; a matter that will not worry Tarantino in the slightest.
Of late, Tarantino has also been vocal about his plan to only do ten movies, which allows fans to speculate what he will do with the two that remain. Although heavily indebted to the Western tradition from which he unashamedly references but passionately champions, it is now possibly the right time for him to leave the western genre and return to a modern day setting, having found success with Django Unchained and now The Hateful Eight. The obvious strength of direction in The Hateful Eight, whereby there are effectively only two different locations that are filmed; either inside or outside the haberdashery, may actually hint at his progress towards theatre. It is rumoured that there are plans to adapt The Hateful Eight for the stage and it is clear to see how; the main drama being staged inside Minnie’s tense and claustrophobic over night hotel from hell.
No film of Tarantino’s is an easy watch and this is certainly very demanding of its audience. The length of the film is definitely testing. It is possibly too long at the start; taking over 40 minutes to reach the haberdashery and maybe too long over all, clocking in at just over three hours. Ennio Morricone’s original score is more akin to a horror film rather than any of the Sergio Leone films through which he made his name, but the soundtrack does compliment the occasionally sinister visuals particularly well.
If it is deceitful gunslingers that make the ‘hateful eight’ then it is Tarantino’s dialogue, often in his tone of humour, which makes the film a success. If you’re yet to watch the film, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth’s character – who is sure to be a parody of Christoph Waltz’s character in Django) makes a speech on ‘frontier justice,’ which is in a sense the embodiment of the film’s moral, if there even is a moral at all. Although the plot of mistrustful mavericks strongly resembles Reservoir Dogs and the postmodern, self referential style found in all Tarantino’s films is not lacking here, The Hateful Eight has strong individual characters in relation to the canon. The Hateful Eight is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination and pub discussions of this film will often start with the words ‘not as good as Django’ but it does reaffirm the fact that what Tarantino does, is what only Tarantino is capable of doing.