Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature film, The Hateful Eight, has enjoyed an interesting journey to the big screen. Shortly after being announced, an early draft of the film’s script was leaked online in January 2014, prompting the director to shelve the project. But after hosting a live reading of the script to immense acclaim, Tarantino decided to move forward with the film after all.
Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is on his way to Red Rock with his latest captive, notorious murdered Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), when he crosses paths with Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), caught out in the wilderness as a blizzard rolls in. Ruth reluctantly agrees to share his stagecoach with the Major, provided that he isn’t trying to get a piece of Domergue’s bounty.
With no hope of making it to the town before the storm hits, the trio find themselves holed up for the night at a roadside inn known as Minnie’s Haberdashery. Minnie herself is nowhere in sight, but they’ll be keeping company with Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a former confederate soldier who claims to be the new sheriff around these parts; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the local hangman; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a surly cowboy type; Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a southern General; and Bob (Demian Bichir), a caretaker who is minding the rest stop in Minnie’s absence.
Ruth makes it clear that he doesn’t trust the other patrons, and that he won’t hesitate to put a bullet in anyone that tries to prevent him from reaching Red Rock. But maybe the reason everyone at Minnie’s seems to be on edge is because they just don’t like Ruth’s attitude. And then, there’s the matter of the Confederates and the black major to think about…
While his last two films have been large, sprawling adventures, The Hateful Eight shares the most in common with Tarantino’s debut feature, Reservoir Dogs. Both films are heavily dialogue-driven, take place mostly in a single location, and are comprised of a fairly small cast of characters. With a tone that remains consistent throughout, rather than shifting wildly from one scene to the next, this is Tarantino’s most focused and cohesive effort in years.
The Hateful Eight is also notable for the director’s decision to shoot the film in Ultra Panavision 70, a format that hasn’t been used since the 1966 Charlton Heston feature Khartoum. Modern cameras were retro-fitted in order to accommodate the lenses, and the film opens this week in a limited “roadshow” release that will see it projected in 70mm, along with a musical overture and an intermission at the end of the second act.
At 187 minutes, the “roadshow” version of The Hateful Eight may test the patience of some viewers – and even the film’s shorter 168-minute cut feels a bit too self-indulgent at times. But the cinematography from Bob Richardson is frequently breathtaking, the score from legendary composer Ennio Morricone is superb, and the dense dialogue that has become Tarantino’s trademark is delivered with plenty of flair by this smartly cast ensemble. Is The Hateful Eight worth all the hoopla surround its production and release? Absolutely.