Tarantino has risen through the ranks long enough to allow himself an almost three hour gamble on westerns, 70mm film, and a gold star cast to make the plan all come together in The Hateful Eight. It’s a safe bet considering his ongoing track record, dedicated following, and the success of his last western, Django Unchained.
Opening on a long wagon ride outrunning a blizzard into Minnie’s cabin “haberdashery” outside of Red Rock, Jackson’s Union Major Warren meeting Russel’s “Hangman” Ruth on the road keep the trademark Tarantino chatter up with Leigh’s $10,000 bounty Daisy handcuffed in tow before meeting up with the new sheriff, slick-talking Mannix (Goggins). You better love that dialogue, because you’ve only met half the characters well past the first half hour, and say goodbye to scenery as the blizzard hits and the door is literally nailed shut. With the exception of some flashbacks, you’re just as trapped as the wagon party inside.
Thankfully, the tension in the air is cut and tightened up again as the curse words fly after the first hour. Confederate General Smithers (Dern) sits at the fire along with an English hangman (Roth), a homesick, surly cowboy (Madsen), and new stable hand, Bob (Bichir), claiming Minnie and the regulars are away. Russel’s commanding presence makes Ruth a capable lead, keeping every one of them in check despite their obvious clash of wills and a suspected secret allegiance with Daisy. What ensues is murder most foul, when poison gives way to a who done it subplot that ends in bullets and blood.
Tarantino’s obvious influence from classic spaghetti westerns comes through with incredible visuals from time to time, but by and large it’s still his kind of film, relying heavy on sharp dialogue and the performances from the cast for a strong delivery. As a character driven film, The Hateful Eight works largely because of the cast’s experience, and Tarantino fans once again get what they paid for. For the aficionado of westerns, however, there’s a hunger for the old standards: rough riding across a sweeping landscape, a bar room brawl, and a climatic gunfight, which all seem to fall short compared to the epic original influences.
Instead, we get all the beauty and terror of watching a locomotive wreck in slow motion. As characters begin dying off in the style of horror and dark comedy, the bodies and bounties add up. Jagged alliances and shady deals bring the tension tighter than a noose as what’s left of the heroes and villains vie for survival against each other and that last temptation of money over duty. Whether it’s a successful film or not largely depends on your feelings of Tarantino’s style of film. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven suffered the scrutiny over the definition of a “good western”, and The Hateful Eight will most likely endure the same.