Monday, January 4, 2016
The world emerges as a hostile, inhospitable setting in writer & director Quentin Tarantino’s second western “The Hateful Eight” (**** OUT OF ****), and everybody but the innocent bystanders winds up getting what they deserve. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, and Channing Tatum seem never at a loss for words in this consistently entertaining but abrasively self-indulgent horse opera. Like a typical Tarantino tale, “The Hateful Eight” wallows in blood-splattered carnage, punctuated by gunfire, and intensified by politically incorrect subject matter laden with scatological, R-rated profanity. Set in a sprawling mosaic of snow-swept Wyoming mountains, this suspenseful bounty hunters versus outlaws western methodically unfolds like a claustrophobic but chatty Agatha Christie drawing-room murder-mystery. Predictably, Tarantino shoots the works with both surprises and shocks that keep this static outing interesting as well as melodramatic. A suspicious bounty hunter escorts a homicidal dame with a $10-thousand dollar reward on her head for a date with the gallows. During his journey, the bounty hunter encounters various gunmen and takes refuge with them in a remote stagecoach relay station during a freezing blizzard. The predominantly all-male cast is nothing short of exceptional, but this doesn’t eclipse Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance as a slimy villain. Now, if you’re not an ardent connoisseur of all things Tarantino, you may find yourself exiting the premises before the film reaches its midpoint.
Scruffy, loud-mouthed, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell of “Tombstone”) has chartered a private stagecoach to transport his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh of “Backdraft”), to the town of Red Rock. He is taking Daisy in alive to watch her hang for her crimes. Unlike most bounty hunters, Ruth prefers to show up with his prisoners alive rather than dead. Along the trail, Ruth runs into another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson of “Pulp Fiction”), who is smoking his pipe perched atop a stack of three frozen corpses. Major Warren gunned down these three guys for the collective $8-thousand dollar bounty on their heads. Unlike Ruth, Warren takes no chances and shows up with his desperadoes dead rather than alive. Major Warren explains that his horse fell dead during the trip across the mountains, and he inquires if Ruth will give him a lift. Reluctantly, Ruth allows Warren to climb aboard. Before Warren can enter the stagecoach, Ruth orders him to surrender his two six-shooters to the coachman, O.B Jackson (James Parks of “Machete”), for safekeeping. Later, another man stranded on foot, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins of “Cowboys & Aliens”), who claims to be the sheriff of Red Rock flags them down. When Ruth demands to see his badge, Mannix explains that he was riding to Red Rock when his horse stepped into a gopher hole and he had to shoot it. Initially, Ruth refuses to believe Mannix. Mannix explains that Red Rock recently lost their sheriff and that he is replacing him. Since he hasn’t gotten to Red Rock yet, he doesn’t have a badge. Furthermore, Mannix argues that Warren and the coach driver will serve as witnesses to testify against Ruth if Mannix is found frozen dead in the snow because Ruth wouldn’t oblige him. Glumly, Ruth lets Mannix join them. Before he lets Mannix aboard, Ruth strikes up an uneasy alliance with Warren. Ruth lets Warren reclaim his revolvers and promises to protect him if Warren will watch over him, too. An infamous Confederate marauder, Mannix is wary of Major Warren who is an ex-Union cavalryman with his own notorious reputation. According to Mannix, Warren burned down a Confederate prison camp to escape from it. During the conflagration, more than forty young Confederate recruits died. CSA President Jefferson Davis put a bounty on Warren’s head and Federal authorities drummed him out of the cavalry.
Basically, the three men aboard the stagecoach remain deeply suspicious about each other despite any deals they may have forged. Eventually, the stagecoach arrives at a lonely relay station called Minnie Haberdashery where six horse stagecoach teams are changed while the passengers rest and refresh themselves. Warren is surprised to learn that Minnie and her family not only have left the relay station in the hands of a Mexican, Bob (Demián Bichir of “Savages”), but also have gone to visit friends. Meantime, Ruth ushers Daisy inside at gunpoint and interrogates the three guests about their identities and destinations. He learns that an Englishman, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth of “Reservoir Dogs”), is a hangman in route to Red Rock. The other man, a drover back from a cattle drive, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen of “Die Another Day”), is heading to see his mother on the far side of Red Rock. Ruth disarms both men, dismantles their revolvers, and sends O.B. into the freezing storm to dump their firearms in the nearby outhouse. The other guest, elderly Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern of “The Cowboys”), doesn’t own a gun. Nevertheless, Ruth doesn’t trust any of them, and he keeps Daisy attached to a chain around his wrist. Meantime, Warren doesn’t believe Mexican Bob’s story about Minnie, but he doesn’t have enough evidence to call him a liar. Unquestionably, the scenes in the stagecoach station constitute the best part of this western.
Kurt Russell blusters through his role as John Ruth, giving a variation on the John Wayne performance that he gave for John Carpenter in “Big Trouble in Little China.” He plays a character who is far friendlier than the Stuntman Mike villain he played in Tarantino’s “Death Proof” (1986). Samuel L. Jackson is at the top of his game as the controversial Major Warren. He dresses like the Lee Van Cleef character Colonel Douglas Mortimer did in Sergio Leone’s second Clint Eastwood movie “For a Few Dollars More.” Channing Tatum appears near the end as a French pistolero who keeps the bullet loops on his holstered pair of revolvers stuffed with lead. The character that Jennifer Jason Leigh plays hasn’t a shred of decency, and John Ruth doesn’t treat her with diplomacy. At one point, he smashes out her front teeth after she gets him riled. “The Hateful Eight” clocks in at 168 minutes. Essentially, Tarantino takes his own sweet time setting up the situation and developing the characters. He gives each of the eight a chance to showcase themselves once the blizzard confines everybody to the stagecoach station with nowhere else to go. During the second half, we learn a lot about these characters. Whether they are wounded or killed, you probably won’t shed a tear for any of them. If you’re looking for role models, you won’t find them. These guys and especially the girl are all dastards. Nevertheless, die-hard Tarantino fans will find it in their hearts to forgive him for the elongated running time, applaud his spontaneous, slam-bang violence, and chuckle at his ghoulish gallery of gruesome characters. Indeed, Tarantino’s eighth feature film lives up to its title, and some parts of it are more hateful than other parts. Compared with Tarantino’s previous seven epics, this gritty, gimlet-eyed western resembles “Reservoir Dogs” with its Spartan number of settings. Major Warren’s story about General Smithers’ son sounds like a reversal of what happened to Marsellus Wallace in “Pulp Fiction.” This scene is probably going to make some southern males cringe for its “Deliverance” subject matter. In fact, the director has said that not only he was influenced by Sergio Corbucci’s Spaghetti westerns, but also the cult science fiction horror movie “The Thing” that starred Kurt Russell. Altogether “The Hateful Eight” qualifies as Tarantino’s best since “Jackie Brown.”