“I don’t believe I ever killed a man that didn’t deserve it.”
-J. B. Books (The Shootist)
Certain directors have a niche that they fill better than anyone else. Some are great at weaving in themes that make their style overtly noticeable. Other directors jump from genre to genre not allowing themselves to be pigeonholed by Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino is all of those things without being a single one. Confused? Don’t be. I am simply saying Tarantino films are noticeably his and only his without ever being the same stale film. The Hateful Eight is like nothing he’s done before, except it’s kind of like all his other movies rolled into one.
The Hateful Eight much like every other Tarantino film has a large talented cast. The film is so full of twists and turns that it makes it hard to summarize. The simplest way to explain the plot is to say it’s about a bounty hunter and his prisoner looking to find shelter in a haberdashery that is being inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters. A brutal blizzard has set in, and the group of less than desirable people are stuck for a few nights waiting for the storm to blow over. Naturally, everything isn’t quite what it seems, and the tension of the group begins to boil over.
Without a doubt, The Hateful Eight is my favorite Tarantino film yet. I have enjoyed all of his films thoroughly, but this movie feels special. With the exception of Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown, there are certain parts of Tarantino films that feel forced or honestly boring. The Hateful Eight, despite being his longest film, moves at a blistering pace. All the typical Tarantino-isms are here: Mexican standoffs, gruesome deaths, ridiculous flashbacks, cameos (by himself as well as others), and of course tension building dialogue. But it is all done with a deft hand, and nothing is forced or off-putting. The dialogue is particularly sharp. He has always been known for his dialogue, but a lot of times it comes off showy or unnatural. In The Hateful Eight it feels perfectly suited, and in a lot of ways, this is his least “talky” film.
Tarantino isn’t the only star of the film. This cast is beyond great. Every part was obviously written with a certain actor in mind. He can occasionally miscast a part, for instance Lucy Liu in Kill Bill: Volume 1, but in The Hateful Eight every single actor hits their mark. It would take 5,000 words to go through each character, so I’m just going to hit a few. Kurt Russell as John Ruth was being dubbed the lead according to the marketing, but even though he is in the majority of the film, it is Samuel L. Jackson who is the main character. This is far and away the best acting Jackson has ever done. He plays the character of Marquis Warren masterfully. He isn’t the angry vengeful black man we so often see him typecast as. He plays a smart even-keeled ex-soldier trying to make it in a post Civil War world. From the moment he takes the screen, he commands the audience’s attention like the legend he is.
The last performance and perhaps my favorite is that of Walton Goggins who is burnt into my heart as the devious Boyd Crowder of Justified, but here Goggins plays Chris Mannix. Mannix is a somewhat bumbling character without sensibility. He revels in his racist confederate past and boasts himself as the new Sheriff of Red Rock. The other characters poke at him and use him as a patsy. But Tarantino has built the most nuanced character in the film and the only one who has a definitive arc. Goggins takes this role and elevates it to a lofty place. A lesser actor could have been intimidated by the overwhelming talent that surrounds him, but he uses wily charm to make his performance stick.
The Hateful Eight is just as claustrophobic as Reservoir Dogs and just as fun as Pulp Fiction. It has the artfulness of Django Unchained and acting that is on par with The Inglourious Basterds. Even though it has all the pitfalls that sometimes weigh down a Tarantino film, The Hateful Eight is so well crafted that those negatives melt away. The Hateful Eight is the best script written this year and is shot just as perfectly. This will undoubtedly be the first time I see a Quentin Tarantino film in the theaters twice, and I can’t wait!