The Hateful Eight, Weinstein Co., 167 minutes, 2015
In Quentin Tarantino’s latest spectacle, eight travelers with gleefully outsize personalities sit out a blizzard together at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover in post–Civil War Wyoming. The group comprises two bounty hunters (Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell), a prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a sheriff (Walton Goggins), an English hangman (Tim Roth), a cowboy (Michael Madsen), an ex-Confederate general (Bruce Dern) and Bob the Mexican (Demián Bichir). The performances are strong across the board—it’s all very wordy, theatrical fun—but it’s Goggins, as the racist oaf Chris Mannix, who steals the show.
The setup: John Ruth (Russell) is transporting Daisy Domergue (Leigh), a criminal with a $10,000 bounty on her head, to the gallows in the town of Red Rock. He suspects one or more of the strange characters at the cabin of either being in cahoots with Daisy and wanting to free her or wanting to steal her and claim the reward themselves. What follows is classic Tarantino: slow-burning, tense dialogue in a claustrophobic setting, intermittently diffused by humor—until it isn’t and explodes in a hail of bullets.
The Hateful Eight is billed as “The Eighth Film From Quentin Tarantino,” and it seems to operate under the assumption its audience already knows the director’s bag of tricks. What makes the first half of the film so suspenseful is the inevitability of the second, in which blood—lots of blood—will be spilled. It plays out as a murder mystery for a violent act we’ve yet to witness. The audience gets its kicks from trying to guess which of the suspicious stagecoach passengers will instigate Tarantino’s patented style of bloodshed—and how, and when.
Unfortunately, the “when” proves crippling to Eight’s final act. Once the violent inevitability presents itself, it diffuses all the heightened tension long before film’s end. Tarantino plays his hand too soon yet expects the audience to remain entertained. We’re left with a gory but dawdling final act further hindered by an expository, unnecessarily violent flashback that spends far too much time revealing what we already suspect. Tarantino always seems to mistake body counts for provocative payoffs.
One wonders if he’ll ever really pull the rug from under his audience and forgo bloodletting altogether. Eight films in Tarantino remains unwilling to subvert his own style in that manner. He once again flaunts his adeptness for creating strong suspense and merging it with humor, but the only way The Hateful Eight could have truly shocked is if no one ended up pulling the trigger.