Tarantino has yet to deliver a genuinely bad film, and this cock-and-bull story accomplishes that most staggering of cinematic feats, being at once impossibly epic and absorbingly intimate.
The cartoonish edge inherent to Quentin Tarantino’s filmography has been habitually overstated by critics at the expense of any meaningful analysis with regard to what makes his movies, and his particular brand of screen violence, so brilliantly unforgettable. Kill Bill’s climatic battle and Inglourious Basterds’ kellerbar massacre, in all their surreal intensity, constitute set pieces that burn themselves onto the adolescent mind with the brine-cold remorselessness of hydrochloric acid.
In your everyday Hollyweird schlockbuster, the morality of the carnage unfolding before us is reducible to the person of the protagonist – even after he has subjected Albanian teenagers to the full Abu Ghraib experience, for instance, we ultimately root for Liam Neeson because every electroshock-blast to the testes of the Other brings him a step closer to his cruelly-Taken daughter. QT has no time for such niceties, and he refuses to conceal the fact from us. His characters inhabit a brutal world; they are brutal people conceived of brutal wombs, and it is the casuality of the unfolding bio-horror, its mundanity within the environment around it, which so appals and fascinates.
There’s intrigue and butchery aplenty in the director’s latest offering, but it’s the unique theatricality of The Hateful Eight that proves its greatest allure. The pitch is simple – on a winter’s day in the 1870s, an assorted bunch of felons and degenerates find themselves drawn to the hearth of a Wyoming haberdashery, initially striving to wait out a ferocious blizzard. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is an Afro-American bounty hunter quite unlike the principled Django; John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a hoary and ill-tempered veteran transporting Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a spectacularly nasty turn), a psychopath, to the gallows of a nearby outpost. Enter a sheriff (Walton Goggins), a Mexican (Demián Bichir), an impenitent Confederate general (Bruce Dern), a Kerouacian drifter (Michael Madsen) and a deliciously implausible Englishman (Tim Roth). The blizzard holds the cabin under a state of perpetual siege – and the owners are missing …
The press on this side of the Atlantic have inevitably touted the Christie-esque qualities of Tarantino’s vision; whilst the plotting does indeed embody the minimalistic ingenuity of a Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot adventure, this is unmistakably the post-Lincoln Frontier of Sam Peckinpah and Cormac McCarthy, amoral, masochistic and utterly blistering. Far from a reiteration of Reservoir Dogs’ claustrophobia, this is a picture every bit as epic as Pulp Fiction.
The socio-political particularities that operate as the impetus for much of the conflict between cast elements is, horrifically, one of the few foundations of this twisted universe that the audience might find instantly relatable – the taut, N-bomb-replete exchanges between Warren and Sheriff Chris Mannix, a bitter Southerner, can only serve to evoke scenes from recent episodes in America’s incessant racial nightmare.
This is, predictably, a dialogue-driven film, perhaps Tarantino’s talkiest to date, but the execution never renders it liable to fall into outright tedium. As the bodies stack up and the claret flies, it becomes apparent that there is method here amid the chaos – there’s a charade afoot, and somebody’s being duped. New twists and questions are introduced at every juncture, some of them bound to outlast the movie’s actual runtime (is Warren lying? Is the rest of the gang actually coming?); this is a far cry from Django Unchained’s straightforward revenge fantasy, and we cannot resign ourselves to root for any of these characters, a vile confederacy of dunces and debauchees all destined for Hell.
Stylistic quirks aside (the haunting, boldly provincial score is a throwback to the revisionist Westerns of the ’60s and ’70s), The Hateful Eight is anything but a tribute to Eastwood and Leone, bearing all the hallmarks of a Quentin Tarantino movie – the guts, the absurdism, the drawn-out sequences, the ostentation and the cinematic self-consciousness. This is a filmmaker who continues to captivate and shock like no other, and the performances are par for the course.
The Hateful Eight (2015), directed by Quentin Tarantino, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment Film Distributors. Certificate 18.