Quentin Tarantino’s films are wildly original, despite his cinematic homage to great directors. I know there will be an excess of violence, blood will hemorrhage, splatter and “spritz” over everything and everyone, while the characters keep on talking literally to their dying breath. Dialogue which is both amusing and penetrating is the linchpin of his movies - refreshing in its fearlessness in talking about issues of hate, misogyny, and racism that have oozed under society’s surface veneer of civility, over the centuries. Tarantino’s approach is not to preach but to show through his characters their appetite for revenge, greed and the conceit of self-interest.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT opens up with panoramic shots of horses galloping in rhythm pulling a stagecoach silhouetted against vast mounds of white snow; an infinite vista emptied of form with only a white light flooding the screen. We are blinded by the beauty and the calm stillness of the landscape; short-lived - the drama begins. Words slice through the silence and language becomes a weapon; Tarantino’s unique verbiage becomes a tool that wounds and spills blood setting the stage for physical slaughter.
Bounty hunting for the most ruthless, becomes the chosen profession of both former Union and Rebel fighters who are skilled in bringing “accused criminals” - those WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE back to small frontier towns to be hung. Trials are an afterthought - the reward is in the successful transport of prisoners to the “hangman.” In this movie, there are at least 7 men and one woman who are itching to shoot each other down with very little pretext. All the lives of the “hateful eight” converge and ignite at Minnie’s Haberdashery - a cabin with a stable and outhouse set like a punctuation mark in the center of the pristine snow-covered terrain - a warm space serving food and drinks for drivers and passengers and a shelter for the exhausted horses.
Like a lot of Tarantino’s movies, his characters are mysterious - past lives and actions are questionable - truth weaves in and out of the picture; the agility of “the talk”, the facility of the tongue to deceive is always hovering in the fetid air. The first person we see emerging from the all-encompassing blanket of snow is Samuel L. Jackson halting a stagecoach speeding to keep ahead of the blizzard, and confidently hitches a ride - frozen prisoners - all dead in tow. Jackson gives a terrific performance as Major Marquis Warren - a grizzled legend in the land, not only for bringing in his bounties “dead” rather than alive, but for being a pen pal and confidante of President Abraham Lincoln, a letter from Ole Abe reverently folded up in his breast pocket - the letter being a catalyst for discussion and a symbol of the former black Union soldier’s stature. THE HATEFUL EIGHT bristles with post Civil War disputes - the war might have ended a few years before but a peace treaty does not allay animosities that run deep from generation to generation to this very day.
We next meet the wagon’s occupant, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) handcuffed to a swollen, blackened eye Daisy Dormergue (great performance by one of my favorite actors - Jennifer Jason Leigh) being brought into Red Rock - for the $10,000 reward. We are never told what Daisy was charged with, but the racist venom spewing out of her mouth reveals a grotesque spirit which is palpably visible on her battered face. Tarantino’s over-the-top violence does not coddle women and it is difficult to watch Daisy being a punching bag and receiving the brunt of “the hangman’s” brutality, but Tarantino literally does not pull any punches especially when he is dealing with a fanatical bigot. Another passenger, who is frozen by the extreme elements, is added to the group - Walter Goggins plays Chris Mannix an ex-Confederate soldier and the newly appointed sheriff of the town where the hanging will take place.
Upon arriving at the rest stop, the action begins - 4 men are already there waiting out the blizzard - with a mesmerizing performance by Bruce Dern as Confederate General Sanford Smithers - an elderly man whose claim to fame is the slaughter of a black Union Calvary Division. To round out the “hateful eight” picture we have Tim Roth (always a favorite of mine) as the actual Hangman of Red Rock complete with a phony British accent, suave and ironic (reminding me of Christoph Waltz’s character in Django Unchained,) and Michael Madsen - a Tarantino ensemble regular as Joe Gage - a laconic stranger lurking in the background, quietly observing the scene. And then there is Bob (Demian Bichir ) dubbed “The Mexican” who seems to be running the joint - claiming that Minnie is out of town. For Major Marquis Warren who misses nothing - it all does not add up.
What ensues in this darkly lit claustrophobic space with occasional bursts of light from the door opening and closing by the storm’s wind is mayhem. Tarantino’s ability to use language is irresistibly seductive and I was never bored. Shards from words piercing the atmosphere infuse the room with a straining tension. Rapier wit together with brutish violence dominate the expansive monologues. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is interesting in that of all Tarantino’s movies - this one is intentionally the most constrained by the oppressive limited space; ultimately there is only the outside and the inside.