At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Hateful Eight “2015”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Mystery-Western/ Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum, Zoe Bell; Narrated by: Quentin Tarantino/ Runtime: 187 or 168 minutes (depends on what version you see) I would also like the record to show that I will be reviewing the version of this film that is 3 hrs. and 7 mins; it is also I might add the version of the film Tarantino wanted all theaters to show and all intended audiences to see.

I feel it safe to start this review by telling you that The Hateful Eight is a completely different film than what Quentin Tarantino had been making in the 12 years prior. This is because after the hiatus that followed the release of Jackie Brown, Tarantino found his career moving towards making films that can best be described as more “epic” in nature. Thus by employing his amazing cinematic knowledge of great westerns, war flicks and kung-fu features, Tarantino managed to deliver some truly large-scale and quite mythical tales that we as audiences know as Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds, and the two-parter that is Kill Bill. That being said though, The Hateful Eight is a return to his small-scaled, dialogue-heavy, non-linear storytelling, bloody, and just plain shocking origins, and in the process of doing so manages to also give us another great film to add to the list that he has made already.

Now for those of you who don’t know (and for those who don’t shame on you…just kidding…maybe) when I say “origins,” I’m naturally referencing Reservoir Dogs the 1992 film that not only introduced the world to Tarantino but also spellbound audiences with its captivating dialogue while most of its action took place within the walls of a dinky, drab warehouse. Indeed, The Hateful Eight is a brilliant return to this kind of storytelling, and with a combination of vile yet captivating characters and a brilliant sense of ever-rising tension, The Hateful Eight comes together as a classic-feeling, wholly-entertaining ride. Indeed, while it’s an immensely challenging narrative style there’s truly not a moment in the 187-minute runtime that you don’t feel completely enraptured in the events that follow.

Now the key to any story like this, be it The Hateful Eight, Reservoir Dogs, The Thing, or even Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is gathering a diverse group of personalities together and just simply raise the heat on them until they are ready to boil over and with the added racial tensions and divisiveness of the post-Civil War era in its back pocket, The Hateful Eight does exactly that. The film begins with a confrontation on a snowy road between two bounty hunters as John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), traveling with a highly-valued prisoner named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is unsure if he should give a ride to a black former Union Calvary officer and fellow bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who is hitchhiking with a pile of bodies as his baggage. Yet it’s the lack of trust that over time carries on as the theme through the entire rest of the film, as these three individuals eventually find themselves taking shelter from a blizzard in a haberdashery that is filled with a few more truly shady characters. However, after getting to know the various people with whom he’s found himself entrenched, Ruth brazenly declares that he knows at least one person in the group is working with Daisy and is going to try and set her free. Yet while he seems to be working with no proof or even evidence, a simple look around the room helps you recognize the brash, arrogant bounty hunter’s suspicions as between a menacingly quiet cowboy named Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), an intensely bigoted Confederate General named Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), and a former Rebel Renegade-turned-supposed new Sheriff named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), most of the folks in the establishment don’t immediately come across as honest. Indeed even the British-sounding hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and the substitute proprietor running the haberdashery, Bob (Demian Bichir), aren’t above suspicion and understanding that the wolf in sheep’s clothing won’t reveal himself until the storm passes and the snow stops, Ruth, with the help of Warren, works to uncover the secrets being held while all while the group in general hash out their own personal disagreements, vendettas, and connections.

Now I’m just going to be honest: these are all truly spiteful, horrible people and they all have truly spiteful, horrible things to say to one another. Yet from the point of view of this critic this is a thing of beauty as it’s really a glorious thing to “bathe” in three-plus hours of Tarantino-scripted dialogue as Tarantino’s darkly humorous wit is still as sharp as it was back when he started in the early 1990s. Indeed, The Hateful Eight does a fantastic job of using dialogue to delight and hypnotize in equal doses and it also becomes evident that he clearly had most, if not all, of his cast in mind while penning the screenplay. This is because when paired with pitch-perfect performances every character memorably just pops onto the screen and is given the opportunity to either make us laugh or shake us to our core while armed with their own unique perspectives, backgrounds and deliveries. Indeed while they have the kind of conversations you could listen to for days they just as amazingly are engaging and exciting on the same level as all the bloodshed which eventually unfolds in the latter half of the movie. Yet although Tarantino is already known for bringing out the best in the actors that he collaborates with, The Hateful Eight only simply manages to enhance that reputation as the ensemble of veterans and even a few newbies to the director’s work all deeply fall into the film’s world and their respective roles with absolutely fantastic work.

This of course starts with one of the best underrated actors in the business Mr. Kurt Russell who is absolutely brilliant as the brash, bullish John “The Hangman” Ruth, but also extends to his co-stars as well. Indeed Jennifer Jason-Leigh is phenomenal as her portrayal of Daisy is as venomous and awful and not to mention twisted as they come and Walton Goggins is simply amazing as the doesn’t-know-when-to-shut-up Chris Mannix. Yet when walking away from the film however I can tell you right now its Samuel L. Jackson as Marquis Warren who audiences will be thinking about the most. Indeed whether he’s playfully seducing John Ruth with a letter he received from President Abraham Lincoln, or delivering an extended yet extremely dark and oddly bitterly hilarious monologue explaining how he knows of General Sandy Smithers, Jackson is captivating at absolutely every moment. Indeed it may be his biggest role that he has had in a Tarantino movie since Jackie Brown, but it’s arguably also his best in a Tarantino movie yet as well.

Now while The Hateful Eight screenplay is also one of the absolute best that Tarantino has ever scripted what’s almost even more extraordinary is the fact that the guy is just as talented a director as he is a screenwriter. This is because in addition to being utterly captivating, the winter-set western potboiler mystery is also jaw-droppingly gorgeous as well due to Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson for this version of the film shooting the movie using Ultra Panavision 70s lenses, which are the exact same used by William Wyler on Ben-Hur I might add, and the end result is an absolutely beautiful wide screen that the film utilizes not only for the stunning sequences set out in the blizzard-struck outdoors, but even the interior events as well. Indeed they really do a wonderful job of adding to the paranoid atmosphere as your eye finds it’s able to explore the haberdashery from wall to wall. Of course, this all comes in addition to Tarantino’s typical aesthetic flourishes from long one-takes, to shots that travel above the characters and through the ceiling yet when it’s all combined and mixed together it plain and simply creates one of the filmmaker’s most visually fascinating features as well.

All in all being as big a fan as I am of Quentin Tarantino’s work I admit I am guilty of walking into each of his movies with excessively high expectations. Indeed while for quite a few directors that can actually become a recipe for disappointment I can safely say that for Tarantino it is not as I walked out of The Hateful Eight with a big smile on my face. This is because The Hateful Eight not only manages to deliver everything that fans love about Tarantino’s work, but is also just a wonderful cinematic experience that should be and most likely will be eagerly revisited time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Hateful Eight a solid 4 out of 5.