Quentin Tarantino returns to form after the just OK Django Unchained with yet another masterpiece in The Hateful Eight, a grandiose Western potboiler that boasts his best dialogue in years and an Oscar-caliber performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh.
I didn’t dislike Django, but I thought there was something a little off and sluggish about it. It definitely left me wanting more from Tarantino on the Western front. I thought he had a better, grittier Western still in him, and this film proves that he did.
Many of the Tarantino cast regulars return, including Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Kurt Russell. Russell, who delivered what I believe is his best career work in Tarantino’s Death Proof as Stuntman Mike, gets another chance to go to town with a Tarantino script, and he embraces it with much enthusiasm.
Russell plays John “The Hangman” Ruth, a bounty hunter renowned for bringing in his prisoners alive so that their necks meet the noose in the end. Riding in a stagecoach to Red Hook, with the notorious Daisy Domergue (Leigh), his latest bounty, chained to his arm, he comes across bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), and this is where the fun begins.
The party rescues one more man, future Red Hook Sheriff Chris Mannix (an outstanding Walton Goggins), from an oncoming blizzard. The stagecoach heads for Minnie’s Haberdashery as a means of shelter, where they meet the rest of the cast and tensions soar. Ruth deduces that one or more persons in the party aim to stop him from reaching Red Hook with Daisy Domergue and her huge bounty.
Russell is doing his best John Wayne here, and he’s scrappy fun, still sporting his mustache and chops from his other 2015 Western effort, Bone Tomahawk. Jackson hasn’t gotten a chance to be this devilish since Pulp Fiction, and he goes off.
The performance likely to make the most waves is that of Leigh as Daisy. John Ruth is prone to elbowing and punching Daisy in the face throughout the movie, and the looks Leigh sports in the hit aftermaths are proof that this lady is not to be messed with. Leigh’s Daisy is definitely full bore crazy, but she also gives us something to sympathize with in her plight. She’s a marvel in this movie in a role that almost went to Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence is a great actress, but Leigh proves she was the right one for the role.
Shot in 70mm, the film is being offered in a Roadshow version complete with an intermission for those of you willing to take a drive to a limited engagement location and see it in the old school format. The impact and beauty of the film will not be lost in the digital projection, I assure you, but seeing a film in a traditionally projected state is a lot of fun if your projectionist is on the ball.
After a bit of bad blood working on Django Unchained, composer Ennio Morricone reteams with the auteur for a soundtrack that will more than likely put him into Oscar contention. Also, it draws a lot of comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing, which also contained snow, group paranoia, Kurt Russell and a Morricone score. The Hateful Eight score, along with the camerawork of Tarantino cinematographer mainstay Robert Richardson, makes this perhaps Tarantino’s best looking, and sounding, movie.
With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino finds his rhythm with editor Fred Raskin, who replaced the late Sally Menke on Django. Menke had edited all of the previous Tarantino films, and her presence was sorely missed on Django, a movie that felt like its beats were a little off. As things have turned out, Django was a decent warm-up for Tarantino and Raskin, because every beat is on the mark in The Hateful Eight. There’s a beautiful sense of tension from the first frame that doesn’t let up for three hours.
Tarantino has been saying he will retire from filmmaking in the classic sense after 10 movies. If you count the Kill Bill movies as one, as he does, The Hateful Eight is his eighth movie. That would mean that there are only two left, which means modern cinema could take a serious hit two Tarantino films from now.