Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 film, The Hateful Eight, puts a decidedly more crime and mystery spin on the Western film genre. Although previous Westerns were frequently filled with criminals of all persuasions, Tarantino infuses the film with a high-level of mystery and twists that will keep the audience guessing until the very end. The film features a great ensemble cast, diverse character archetypes, beautiful cinematography, and engrossing music. Simply put, The Hateful Eight is not a film you will soon forget.
The story is set in the Wyoming winter and centers around a bounty hunter and his captured target as he travels to his destination. This occurs while trying to stay ahead of a blizzard. The bounty hunter’s situation is compounded when he comes across other travelers. This slows him down and results in him, and his new traveling mates, having to seek shelter in a haberdashery until the storm subsides. However, the cabin is being inhabited by a motley crew of characters who may or may not prove trustworthy.
From an editing and macro level, The Hateful Eight’s pacing is segmented as the film is divided into distinct chapters replete with their own title cards. This older style of film storytelling allows for the story to be appropriately fleshed out without seeming prolonged and obtuse. The well-defined chapters allow the audience to clearly follow the development.
From a more narrative-based lens, the story’s progression feels natural as it highlights bounty hunter John Ruth attempting to collect his bounty to the complicating of his journey and his unanticipated stop at the cabin during the blizzard. The introduction of the characters is handled well and does not feel shoehorned. Some may criticize Ruth and the story itself for appearing strange that an ostensibly ruthless bounty hunter would stop and allow two apparent strangers into his coach, but if that would not have happened, The Hateful Eight would not have happened. I, however, thought it was well executed and pretty convincing given the context.
The pacing is definitely stylized as a slow-burn. Once the characters arrive at the haberdashery and they have interactions with its sojourners, the element of mystery becomes palpable and dominant. The story’s nature will make the audience predict who can and cannot be trusted. The way this use of logic is employed is quite reminiscent of the smart, methodical approach of Agatha Christie or a show on Masterpiece. Although the run time is lengthy, clocking in at two hours and forty-seven minutes for the general release, the characters, acting, and the mystery pervading the writing will help the time seem as though it quickly passes.
Elements of mystery, crime, and drama seamlessly combine with the Western-styled components to permeate The Hateful Eight’s tone. This adds a refreshing take on the overall Western genre. Yes, Westerns often contain criminals, crime, drama, and, in some cases elements of mystery, but the high-brow mystery in the film’s meticulous writing allows the film to carve out its own niche in the long history of Western cinema.
The Hateful Eight features a strong and diverse ensemble cast. Each of the characters represented fit into their own framework. None of the character models are repeated. This is vital in helping the film feel fresh and engaging for the audience. Several characters are bounty hunters, but their style and way they obtain their rewards are unique. Though the casting is ensemble based, Kurt Russel, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh are the characters who are featured the most.
Kurt Russell’s John “The Hangman” Ruth is very well acted. Russell does a good job at showing Ruth’s irritable reactions regarding the frequent stage coach stops. Audiences really see that Ruth’s top priority is getting to town so he can close his current bounty. The ruthless manner in which he treats his target, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue, serves as stark reminders that Ruth is an individual to be feared.
Samuel L. Jackon’s Major Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren is the most outspoken and feisty of the eight, which meshes well with Jackson’s style and delivery. Warren’s background and tactics are communicated so clearly through the dialogue that it feels like viewers have witnessed him hunting his quarry on several occasions.
Due to his blunt personality, Warren can be very ostentatious. This is most evident when Jackson delivers a monologue. However, this soliloquy is exceptionally vulgar and graphic. This is my most glaring critique with the film. The sequence could have been reworked to make it better while still showing that Warren was baiting on of the individuals in the cabin. Yet it is a Tarantino film, and he is known for having such elements, even in his “new Tarantino” films. At the very least, this segment could have been abridged.
Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue, the cause of Ruth’s journey and subsequent experiences, is convincing. The way in which Leigh conveys Domergue’s criminality is chilling. Although she is currently restrained by Ruth, she does a great job at showing her nefarious nature and how Ruth will not want to let her out of his sight.
The other members of the eight are Walton Goggins’ Chris “The Sheriff” Mannix, Demián Bichir’s Bob “The Mexican,” Tim Roth’s Oswaldo “The Little Man” Mobray, who claims to be an executioner, Bruce Dern's General Sandy "The Confederate" Smithers, and Michael Madsen’s Joe “The Cow Puncher” Gage. If the characters’ noms de guerre are not intriguing enough to get you to watch the film, then rest assured that their nuanced method acting performances will make your screening worth it simply from an acting standpoint.
Robert Richardson’s cinematography is very adroit. The mix of cowboy shots and the use of depth of field are successful at capturing the tension and mystery filling so many of the film’s sequences. Richardson’s intentionality in his compositions is something that is appreciated. There are definitely some sequences that will serve as subjects of deeper film analyses.
In one scene I thought the use of top lighting around a table in the cabin was a bit odd and harsh, but other sequences with it made it more convincing. This is only a minor critique, but worth mentioning nevertheless. The second unit and establishing shots are beautiful and would make for great poster prints or wallpapers.
The production design and wardrobe are remarkable. The stage coach and the haberdashery are beautifully constructed and decorated. Similarly, the costuming is also very high quality. Not only are each of the characters unique in personality, but their wardrobes and fashion are distinctive as well. Whether it is the design of the overcoats and weapons or the accoutrements in the haberdashery, these features complement the cinematography and create a memorable experience.
Ennio Morricone’s compositions are also a highlight of the film. Morricone is no stranger to creating iconic Western melodies, and his work in The Hateful Eight shows that he is just as creative and inspired as ever. The use of bassoon and sharp strings in the film’s main theme creates a haunting and mysterious effect.
Quentin Tarantino not only served as the film’s director, but he also penned The Hateful Eight’s screenplay. The film’s writing and overall execution are impressive. As mentioned above, Tarantino adds new elements to the Western genre. The way in which he directs such strong acting from the ensemble is commendable. Additionally, his management of the film’s pace, tone, cinematography, and music – both the original score and the Tarantino-styled modern songs – makes the film a tight final product. I do think Jackson’s monologue should have been tweaked a bit, but, after all, The Hateful Eight is a Tarantino film. Tarantino’s creative decision for a distinguishable element in the third act (no spoilers) illustrates the care of his writing and creative vision for the movie as a whole. It is clear that Tarantino is an auteur director.
In the end, The Hateful Eight is a film that should not be missed. However, there is a caveat being that this is a Tarantino film. I personally prefer the “new Tarantino” style, but even then I was surprised how much I ended up liking the movie. Therefore if you are on the fence, you may be pleasantly surprised. As with his other productions, The Hateful Eight features vulgar dialogue and grisly violence and gore, so that should be considered. The way in which Tarantino handles and communicates the mystery and twists in the movie are terrific. By the film’s conclusion, I was left thinking that Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is on par with other extraordinary productions such as: Witness for the Prosecution, The Mousetrap, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Sting. If you like mystery films, and especially if you are an acolyte of the Western genre, The Hateful Eight will not let you down.
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Production: Double Feature Films; FilmColony
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producer: Richard N. Gladstein; Shannon McIntosh; Stacey Sher
Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino
Director of Photography: Robert Richardson
Editor: Fred Raskin
Production Manager: Yohei Taneda
Music: Ennio Morricone
Costume Designer: Courtney Hoffman
Budget: ca. $44,000,000
Release Date: December 25, 2015; December 30, 2015 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: Ultra Panavision 70
Laboratory: FotoKem Laboratory
Aspect Ratio: 2.76:1
Copyright Holder: Visiona Romantica, Inc.
Cast: Kurt Russell; Samuel L. Jackson; Jennifer Jason Leigh; Walton Goggins; Demián Bichir; Tim Roth; Michael Madsen; Bruce Dern; James Parks; Dana Gourrier; Zoë Bell
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Rating: R; Descriptors: Strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity.
Running Time: 2 hours and 47 minutes (167 mins.), general release; 3 hours and 7 minutes (187 mins.), roadshow