Quentin Tarantino's unrequited love for 60s era spaghetti westerns is again on display in The Hateful Eight. It is a gruesomely violent, garrulous, and protracted homage to a style of filmmaking the director fervently adores. Shot in 70mm with an overture, intermission, and score by the legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone; The Hateful Eight clocks in at a staggering three hours and seven minutes. The film is an ugly, yet fascinating discourse on race relations and loyalty. It takes a minor eternity to get going, but is fairly gripping once the stage is set.
The story takes place in post Civil War Wyoming during a fierce blizzard. Former Union soldier, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), is stranded on a snowy trail with a bounty of corpses. He flags down a stagecoach with John 'The Hangman' Ruth (Kurt Russell), and his prisoner, the vile Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Warren convinces Ruth to give him a ride to Red Rock, where Daisy is set to hang for her crimes. Along the way they pick up another passenger, a former Southern rebel and the new sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). The storm forces them to stop and take shelter at Minnie's Haberdashery, a remote mountain outpost. The respite takes a turn for the treacherous with several mysterious strangers also riding out the storm. Warren surmises that someone in their midst is in league with Domergue, and all of their lives are at risk.
The Hateful Eight is a mystery soaked in blood. Which one of these despicable characters, all played by familiar Tarantino regulars, is Daisy's accomplice? It's downright chatty as the characters burn hours of runtime while engaging in profane and racist banter. The back and forth drags insufferably until the second act ends with a sadistic jolt. All of a sudden, you're back on the bandwagon. Then the intermission hits like an uppercut. This is an effective and calculated move by Tarantino to get you hooked for the final act. The pacing for the film then changes considerably as the plot is revealed.
There are two standout performances in The Hateful Eight. Jennifer Jason Leigh deserves to win the Supporting Actress Oscar as Daisy Domergue. She's been great for decades, but has her career best performance here. Daisy is a nasty piece of work, a completely detestable and manipulative character. I love how she's not sexualized in any way. She is the primary female character, shackled throughout the film, but not treated, nor does she act, like an object of desire. Walton Goggins is also outstanding as Chris Mannix. He's a character actor that's been in many films, but finally has a chance to shine as the Southern sympathizer. Tarantino knows how to direct a fine ensemble and certainly hasn't lost a step in The Hateful Eight.
The Hateful Eight is weighed down by artistic overload. The 70mm stock, which basically allows you to see double the normal screen size, is kind of a gimmick. Most of the film, I'd guess seventy percent of it, takes place inside Minnie's Haberdashery. There's scant scenery of epic mountain vistas. Tarantino wants to show all of the characters interacting inside the lodge. It works to a point, but like every other film, edits to a close-up when a character is speaking. Leading me to not see the value of the 70mm. The film is also too damn long. You could realistically edit out forty minutes and not lose anything pertinent. Tarantino loves dialogue heavy scenes where characters tear into each other. Once again, this works to a point, then it becomes clutter. The Hateful Eight would have been a much better experience in a leaner cut.
The Hateful Eight, despite the arduous length, entertains in classic Tarantino style. It has the memorable characters, carnage, and requisite surprises the audience expects from his work. It's not likely that someone unfamiliar with Tarantino would enjoy this film or appreciate his artistic nuances. The Hateful Eight is just too long and violent for casual viewers. That said, credit Tarantino for his vision. It is certainly distinctive.