Sometimes you don’t need clever action pieces or imaginative worlds to keep the audience fascinated and transfixed on the screen. There are moments when all you need is put enough colorful characters in a room, maybe give them some motivation to act badly towards one another, and you get a film that could rival a Alfred Hitchcock film in terms of suspense and intrigue.
This is what Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” sets out to accomplish. Unlike his earlier films, such as “Django Unchained” and “Inglorious Basterds,” this film is minimalistic but takes full advantage of what is given. “The Hateful Eight” takes almost nothing, and turns in into a gripping western that was suspenseful from start to finish.
Set shortly after the Civil War, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) gets caught in a blizzard after his horse dies from exhaustion. He stumbles upon a stagecoach with John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) inside with a woman chained to his arm (Jennifer Jason Leigh) worth $10,000. John intends to get this woman, named Daisy Domergue, to Red Rock but is stopped by the oncoming blizzard.
John, Daisy, Marquis, their driver O.B. (James Parks) and the new sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) are forced to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery for the night, where they come across another stagecoach full of strange people, including Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and the inn-keeper Bob (Demian Bichir). John quickly picks up that one of these guys, or possibly more, are not who they say they are, and might have some ties with Daisy.
What I love more than anything about “The Hateful Eight” was the decision to pull back on the violence. Tarantino films are known for the excessive amounts of gore, including “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” “Pulp Fiction” and the last few scenes of “Django Unchained” just to name a few. But by telling us that these terrible people are bounty hunters, including one that makes sure his victims hang and not shooting them in the back, you set the ground work for lots of bloodshed, especially when you put eight of these cold blooded killers in one room.
Yet the film takes its time.
We know the violence is coming, but Tarantino doesn’t deliver it so quickly. I don’t think a single bullet is fired until the film is more than halfway over. It’s like watching a hitman put a gun to someone’s head, but not pulling the trigger – You’re left in suspense, wondering not if it will happen, but when. And boy, when the film decides to unleash its fury, it does not hold back. Tarantino knows how to make a body being torn apart by gunfire look spectacular.
But another factor that makes “The Hateful Eight” so different from other Tarantino films is the pacing. Typically, Tarantino movies move at a fast pace, since he loves jumping around to different characters and playing with time. But here, the film moves at a slow and almost unyielding pace.
This gives the film a similar feel to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, like “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” In fact, “The Hateful Eight” felt like the opening 20 minutes of “Once Upon A Time In The West” stretched out to over two and a half hours, with lots of quiet moments of characters doing little things like writing in a book or eating, close-ups of characters faces as they survey the landscape and find out if they’re safe, and the director savoring every moment as the moment where a character explodes builds up.
It also certainly helps “The Hateful Eight” compare to Leone’s films when Tarantino got the same composer, Ennio Morricone, who also gave us great scores like “Cinema Paradiso” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” By combining Morricone’s score with the traditional Tarantino style of music choice, we get a bombastic and atmospheric score that knows how to highlight the key moments and speaks to audience at just the right moments.
There are some problems with “The Hateful Eight” though, especially near the end. There are a few scenes that go on longer than they need to, especially ones set in the past after a big plot-heavy scene. We get this big emotional moment where most of the suspense and mystery is released, but follow it up with 20 minute explanation. Anything left unresolved is going to be lost by the time that scene is over, so that does hurt the film.
For those who are expecting the cleanest Tarantino film, that is not the case. When “The Hateful Eight” wants to be bloody, it is not only his most gore-filled movie, but rivals “Crimson Peak” in terms of squeamish moments. If you have a problem with blood or excessive amounts of violence, this is not the film for you, but then again no Quentin Tarantino films are for you either. We’ve come to expect something like this from him over the years.
Overall, “The Hateful Eight” is Tarantino’s equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope,” a film that takes its sweet time to build up every ounce of suspense. But the difference here is that Tarantino fills his film with fascinating characters doing despicable things to one another, unaware of who is using whom. Combine this with the pacing and atmosphere of a Sergio Leone film, and you get a western that is relentless and satisfying.
Final Grade: A-