When Quentin Tarantino announced that his eighth film would be a Western, I wasn’t all that intrigued. After all, while Django Unchained wasn’t a conventional Western, it borrowed enough elements from the genre to be considered one. I’m a fan of his work, so I knew I’d enjoy whatever it was he was working on, but I wasn’t as excited as I have been for his films in the past. While it doesn’t break new ground for the writer/director, The Hateful Eight surprisingly feels more like an Agatha Christie tale than the Spaghetti Westerns that Tarantino so heavily adores.
The plot is divided into six chapters. The film begins with Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Marquis Warren, hitching a ride with John Ruth (Kurt Russell) in the middle of a blizzard. The two are heading to Red Rock, where Ruth is transporting a fugitive named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in order to claim a bounty worth $10,000. Warren himself has three bounties that he is bringing into town, so the two strike an unusual bond over their line of work. Along the way, they pick up another individual named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who says that he is the new sheriff of Red Rock. Knowing that the storm is too brutal to make it to Red Rock, the stagecoach stops at Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is where we meet the rest of the film’s characters. These include the Red Rock hangman, a cowboy, a Mexican, and a former Confederate general.
Like many of Tarantino’s films, The Hateful Eight establishes relationships in order to organically build suspense. Eventually, this suspense builds up to a bloody, satisfying climax. In this case, John Ruth is paranoid over someone stealing Daisy Domergue from him in order to keep the bounty for themselves. I don’t want to spoil much more of the narrative since a great deal of the fun is the genuinely surprising twists that come with it. Let’s just say that this is not the serious story that Django was, opting for more of a lighthearted mystery instead. The film does present some grim events, but there are plenty of humorous moments to be found in the dialogue and physicality of the actors’ performances.
Coming from someone who’s regarded as one of the most well-respected screenwriters alive, The Hateful Eight is expectedly envisioned. While a few characters take up more screen time than the rest, everyone does a good job at bringing their unique personalities to life, with Goggins, Leigh and Jackson having an especially great time in the process. Something I admired the most about the film’s script was the subtle racial theme that is present from beginning to end. For example, Marquis Warren reveals early on in the film that he has a letter written to him from Abraham Lincoln. This immediately strikes the attention of the rest of the characters, who find themselves perplexed as to how someone like him could possess an item of such significance. These moments are particularly thought-provoking and have stuck with me more than the bloodshed present in the film’s second half.
I was fortunate enough to watch the film during its 70MM Roadshow run, meaning that the film was screened on 70MM film to make an extra special viewing experience for the audience. In addition, there was a musical overture and an intermission. Speaking of which, the legendary Ennio Morricone composed the score for The Hateful Eight. For those of you who don’t know, Morricone has scored some of the most famous Westerns in history, such as Sergio Leone’s Dollar Trilogy as well as Once Upon a Time in the West. To make things more impressive, this is his first complete Western soundtrack in the last thirty-five years, making the film a real treat for those interested in the history of the genre.
The Hateful Eight is another solid installment in Tarantino’s filmography. Fans of his work will most likely not be disappointed. With that said, I must admit that it’s not one of my favorites of his. It’s a craftily entertaining feature for sure, but from someone who’s left a major mark on the industry in the last twenty or so years, it just doesn’t have that same “wow” factor that his earlier work possesses. And you know what? I don’t think it’s trying to be anything that it isn’t. After a film with such a serious topic as Django, it’s understandable that Tarantino just wanted to make something that was fun and not necessarily reaching for an Oscar. If you walk into The Hateful Eight with these expectations, you’re sure to have a swell time.