“Stuck in the middle with you”. In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino takes us out on the road to Red Rock and traps us in the middle of a shed. During a blizzard. What transpires is a two hour forty five minute snowstorm of Quentin-soaked siege action. Feeling hypothermic? No, it is typical Tarantino, red hot and full to the brim of wit. It would melt Iceland, let alone the Wyoming snow. If Slow West took a more leisurely approach to the genre, here Tarantino innovates further, giving us the static Western.
The first forty five minutes or so are joyfully spent trawling through the snow in bounty hunter John Ruth’s wagon as he brings home the inverted commas bounty of convicted killer Daisy Domergue. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a bespattered beauty to her white trash character. She is an ugly artery bleeding into the heart of the film with eyes on escape at any cost. Her face is also a blank canvass for any blood our gore-friendly director sees fit to insert. Besmirched with brains would have to be a personal favourite. Of course the film deals its fair share of gratuitous violence. What more would you want from a director on the campaign trail against police brutality…?
Anyway, the only trail the film follows is the route to Minnie’s Haberdashery. Before arrival at this icily isolated general store we pick up our protagonist: Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren. Jackson’s bounty hunter is a former unionist officer who fought in the American Civil War. Carrying his Lincoln letter – a letter from President Abraham Lincoln – Warren duplicitously snakes his way across America’s endless countryside. His fall announced in the first frame. He sits on a throne of three dead bodies as Ruth’s Wagon halts at the sight of our ominous, yet sartorially excellent Major. Next on the road comes the town’s new sheriff, Chris Mannix, deftly over-played by the imaginatively titled Walton Goggins as the counterpoint to Jackson’s sedate control.
The wandering journeys of our collected vagabonds are left implicit as Tarantino focalises upon the long weekend from hell, holed up in a snowy hillside shed. America’s scale is captured on the nostalgic Spaghetti Western selection of the 70mm Panavision print. The wintry vistas are not the desert spectacle of yore, but their transcendental beauty washes away the onscreen violence, providing a cathartic quality to the moments of (less-than-expected) excessive blood letting. But it is the use of this retro-tech within the cabin that is true genius, adding an epic overtone to the closed space. Characters flit on the edge of the screen in this expanded universe, testament to cinematographers Robert Richardson’s precision.
Admittedly, three of the UK’s bigger cinema chains, including the ubiquitous Cineworld, will not feel faintly sympathetic having overlooked the film due to incompatibility in screening. Nonetheless, The Hateful Eight it is a rewardingly immersive watch and well worth watching on as big a screen as possible, even if that means sourcing an alternative cinema to your usual ghastly haunt. Tarantino likes to court controversy and this year has seen the icon of contemporary American cinema back in the headlines. It is just nice to see it is the film’s aesthetic style that is the controversy here and not the man behind the lens.
If Inglorious Bastards was a little sub-par and Django Unchained sparked a return to form, then The Hateful Eight rightfully sits amongst top Tarantino. This does not become obvious until we arrive at Minnie’s and the director’s vision truly erupts. The confined setting lends the production a sense of onstage, theatrical dramatic intensity. The claustrophobia gives the actors room to express their assembly of abilities. The assembled are led by a characteristically idiosyncratic performance from the excellent Tim Roth, who leads a treasure trove of talent sitting in wait for our wagon’s arrival. Roth plays english hangman, Oswaldo Mowbray, to tea-sipping bowler hat wearing essence, while retaining a complete air of unfathomable impenetrability.
Indeed, each of The Hateful Eight seems less auspicious than the last and with no sign of Minnie, something is clearly afoot. Tarantino’s talent is palpable in the easy blending of genre as the hijinks of the woodland road segue into a perfectly pitched portrait of paranoia. Agatha Christie eat your heart out is an expression this director would take a little too literally with access to today’s technology, but Tarantino’s twee twists, offset by violent turns offer new life to the age-old storyline of a collection of untrustworthy individuals incarcerated. The main arc of the plot centres around the coffee jug. I mean, come on, how twee can we be!
But, have faith. The running time is luxurious, not lugubrious, allowing the characters to develop under our gorging gaze. Three hours have flown before you can guess the ‘L’ in Samuel Jackson. He sure doesn’t act like a sixty seven year old, nor a Leroy for that matter. But before we get into guessing games, events onscreen are more than riveting, leaving no room for a Mexican wave in the grandstands. My main man for murder was Mexican man Bob (Demián Bichir), the caretaker, but Tarantino will lead you on many more dead-ends before the final reveal.
Sweet Dave? Nah…Channing Tatum, seriously.