A funny thing has happened to Quentin Tarantino over the years. He used to be the poster boy for the indie auteur. Films like “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” were great because of their daring and unconventionality. But those films were so good — and Miramax was so good at marketing them — that Tarantino films stopped being indie masterpieces and started becoming box office events.
It never really changed the way Tarantino approached film and didn’t change Tarantino as a person (even amongst his most ardent fanboys, Tarantino’s personality is viewed as frustratingly annoying at best and violently distasteful at worst), but it did change the films themselves.
In that vein, “The Hateful Eight” might be the most completely “Tarantino” film he has ever done. It is gorgeous, bigger than life, wildly self-indulgent, bloated, violent and completely remarkable.
The film centers around its titular eight protagonists: Former Union Cavalry officer Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson); the bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell); Ruth’s prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh); Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins); Bob (Demian Bichir), the enigmatic Mexican caretaker of Minnie’s Haberdashery, where most of the action takes place; fast talking British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth); cow puncher Joe Gage (Micheal Madsen) and former Confederate Gen. Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). Ruth is taking Domergue into the Wyoming town of Red Rock to hang for a murder when a mountain blizzard forces his wagon to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery until the storm blows over. It’s there that Ruth and Domergue (along with Warren and Mannix, who both hitched rides along the way) encounter the final four of the Hateful Eight, already holed up. Domergue has a $10,000 bounty on her head, and Ruth is paranoid and mistrustful of everyone, assuming someone will either try to steal the bounty for his or her own or spring Domergue from captivity. What unfolds is one of the thickest, most satisfying stories Tarantino has concocted.
Divided into chapters, “The Hateful Eight” is easily the slowest film that Tarantino has ever created. There are great expanses of monologued scenes that play out with incredible restraint and give the film a pacing that makes the first half of “Inglorious Basterds” feel like an action film by comparison. In the “roadshow” version of the film, “Hateful Eight” comes packaged with an overture and intermission, putting the film’s full runtime at nearly 3 hours 15 minutes, and it becomes apparent from the outset that Tarantino is in no hurry to tell you his story. If you watch a screening with no intermission, the long stretches between action beats can start to wear a bit.
Visually, Tarantino made the widely-hyped decision to shoot the film on Super Panavision 70mm film stock. It’s a beautiful medium that allows for gorgeous wide angle shots and panoramic exterior shots. So, of course, Tarantino’s film is shot almost entirely indoors in a long series of closeups and two-shots. What the Super Pan 70 allows for in this case, however, is a remarkable depth of field and gorgeous resolution, which all comes together to make “Hateful Eight” a visual treat, no matter what is on the screen. The Haberdashery itself is full of clues as to what is actually going on, and the film is colorful and vibrant.
As previously stated, this might be the most Tarantino film ever made. As such, the film really has a very specific (though still large) audience. You have to be OK with Tarantino’s pacing decisions, you have to enjoy his aesthetic and his love of bloody violence, and you have to accept his infuriating penchant for using one particular word that he shouldn’t. But if all of that works for you, “Hateful Eight” is one of the best films you’ll see this year. CV