The Hateful Eight could easily be sold as Quentin Tarantino doing Agatha Christie in the Wild West but it does even more than living up to that mouth-watering billing; it is Tarantino’s most political film to date, set in post-Civil War United States and challenges throughout, with lines that are topically relevant while daring the foolish to laugh at the Punch and Judy violence against women and the throw-away racism; and it is delivered in cinemas in panoramic vision and surround sound, with stunning cinematography and the sounds of blowing blizzards, galloping horses and guns blazing.
Twenty three years after Reservoir Dogs, even with a limited release due to the distribution demands, audiences still run to the cinema for a Tarantino film as he used to do himself when Scorsese was pumping out classics in the seventies. Tarantino’s films are fewer in number, but always deliver.
In his eighth film the audience know what classic ingredients to expect. The dialogue develops the characters early on and allows for some subtle comedy later on; Samuel L Jackson has most of the comic moments in The Hateful Eight, but as good a joke as any is when the southern man, who much earlier introduced himself with his Dukes of Hazard drawl as the soon to be new Sherriff of Red Rock, the destination town of the travellers in the film, immediately takes the coat of a dead man he failed to save in a spot of opportunism which is in-keeping with a well drawn out character.
But the dialogue in The Hateful Eight offers more than laughs and pop culture. Some of the political conversations in the early part of the film had more in keeping in style with Ken Loach’s characters debating the Spanish Civil War in Land and Freedom than fries with mayonnaise. And when Jackson’s bounty hunter character shows how his wicked imagination can engineer situations he desires, he justifies his actions with cutting words that highlight a modern history of racial injustice in the United States of America.
Arguably some of the most interesting and warmest characters come in a flashback sequence. Despite the undercurrent of menace the viewer knows is apparent as they make the entrance on screen, Tarantino expertly brings these small parts to life instantly. It wouldn’t be a surprise to learn there was a lot more shot in the flashback chapter that was forced to hit the cutting room floor to bring the film down to the 168 minutes running time that went pretty quickly.
As always in his films, the score is perfect. Tarantino uses the magic of Ennio Morricone, not for the first time, but here it has the effect of rubber stamping The Hateful Eight as an authentic Western. The real musical highlight though is Jennifer Jason Leigh singing in character, a perfect example of how to use music naturally as part of a film.
And of course, there will be blood. Mischievously Tarantino frequently throws in black comedy alongside much of the violence in The Hateful Eight while making some of it as visually captivating as the snow swept exterior landscapes; vomiting guts, severed limbs and multi-coloured jelly beans would have livened up any murder mystery weekend set which was concentrated on one stage.
There are a few of Tarantino cast favourites, gathered together at various points, like a superhero convention. Zoe Bell’s stuntwoman from Death Proof talks to Mr Blonde; Kurt Russell, a previous serial killer is now a moral, almost liberal, bounty hunter, nicknamed The Hangman; meanwhile, Tim Roth is given a shot of redemption for Sepp Blatter. And of course there is Samuel L Jackson, whose timing of the line “the only time black folks are safe, is when white folks are disarmed” could be considered one of his career highlights as an actor.
Like all Tarantino films, The Hateful Eight will reward repeated viewing. Cinema needs his ambitious filmmaking to continue past eight films.
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