The Hateful Eight was a film of two haves, literally. There was an interval. The first half was slow paced, and slightly tedious, building the tension in typical Tarantino fashion, but everything came to a head in the second half and culminated in a full on gore fest.
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film (see what he did there?) opens with Ennio Morricone’s Golden Globe winning score rumbling over scenes of a frozen landscape of Wyoming with a stage coach approaching. Onboard is John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter who is delivering the murderous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Redrock where she will be tried and hanged. Ruth is old fashioned: despite Domergue having a dead or alive bounty of $10,000 on her head, he wants to bring her in kicking and screaming so he can watch her hang, to see justice being delivered and to not cheat the hangman.
Ruth trusts no one. When he encounters fellow bounty hunter, and black civil war veteran Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and new Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), both of whom he knows, he is sceptical to let them aboard the stagecoach to give them a lift to Redrock, despite the risk of them freezing to death with an encroaching blizzard on their trail. Under the condition of wearing handcuffs and handing their guns over the the driver, he begrudgingly lets them aboard.
To evade the blizzard, the party take up in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a popular stagecoach rest stop in Wyoming. But Minnie is nowhere to be found. The stopover has been left in the hands of Bob the Mexican, with three residents already being put up for the night: old General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), English hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and shifty cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen).
From this point, the film is set entirely within the one-room shack (aside from the odd exterior shot). The 70mm format seems wasted on what is essentially a stage play. It’s a nice cinematography gimmick, and it made for good marketing when the film first launched and toured the US on a 50s style roadshow presentation (hence the 12 minute interval at the cinema) so it could be shown in the special format.
As the eight residents settle into the one-room set of Minnie’s and get to know each other, Ruth points out that at least one man is not who he says he is, and is likely here to free Daisy before he can take her to hang. In a film where everyone seems to recognise somebody else, there are a lot of unknowns. Once introductions have taken place, something of a murder mystery in reverse unfolds as Ruth and the audience try to ascertain everyone’s motives.
Samuel L. Jackson is on good form, doing what he does best: having a big old rant and shooting people. He kicks starts proceedings in the second half of the film, and thank goodness, as up until this point I was beginning to wonder where the film was going and when the ‘strong bloody violence’ that warranted the film an 18 certification was going to happen. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also brilliant as the feisty, uncouth Daisy, who’s snarling facial expressions and wild eyes never fail to shine through the blood or bruising on her face. And Channing Tatum’s cameo was a pleasant surprise.
The violence is, as expected, bloody and over the top: with exploding heads, genital injuries and missing limbs. Ruth and Daisy make quite a double act as he dishes out punches and slaps to his captor. It shouldn’t be, but it’s almost comedic thanks to Russell’s delivery and Jason Leigh’s reactions.
I didn’t think the film wasn’t as good as Django Unchained, and it certainly isn’t up there with Pulp Fiction. This is reflected in the recent award wins nominations: Ennio Morricone quite rightly gets an Oscar nod for his tense, brooding score, and Jennifer Jason Leigh has received several nominations for her performance. But the film as a whole, and Tarantino as a director have been neglected from the shortlists. It did however, gain screenplay nominations at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and the BAFTAs. But a more notable nomination is perhaps the EDA Special Mention Award: Movie you wanted to love, but just couldn’t.