Here’s an easy litmus test to determine whether or not you will like The Hateful Eight: How do you feel about Quentin Tarantino?
“I love him, he’s awesome!”: You will really like this movie.
“He gets on my nerves sometimes, but I like some of his stuff.”: You’ll enjoy it. It will get you out of the house and away from crazy relatives for a few hours.
“I’d tell him to fuck off, but he’s up his own ass so far he wouldn’t be able to hear me.”—…You get the drift.
Sure, it’s a bit obvious to say “If you like a director’s previous works, you might like his new movie!,” but I think it’s a worthwhile comment here, because The Hateful Eight is pure, bottled Eau d’Tarantino, for better or for worse. (Your mileage may vary.) It’s self-indulgent. It’s provocative. It’s very, very violent. It thinks it has more Deep Shit (particularly regarding race) to say than it actually does. And it’s long: The wide release (out December 31) is missing the overture and 12-minute intermission of the 70mm roadshow version (out December 25), plus six minutes of footage, but either way, Hateful is knock-knock-knockin’ on three hours’ door.
Here’s the basic premise: Kurt Russell plays a bounty hunter taking a criminal, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to a nearby town to be hung. On the way, he encounters fellow bounty hunter and former Union soldier Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the son of an infamous Confederate rabble-rouser and the new sheriff of the town where they’re all headed. A snowstorm holes the quartet, plus their driver, up in an out-of-the-way boarding house, where they meet a local executioner (Tim Roth), a former Confederate General (Bruce Dern), a taciturn traveler (Michael Madsen) and a man (Demian Bichir) who says he’s an employee of the boarding house’s suspiciously absent proprietors.
From that point on, the entire movie takes place pretty much in a one-room cabin, with various character motivations being teased out along the way. Needless to say, not everyone is who they say they are. The escalation of tension is incredible, and it’s to Tarantino’s credit that The Hateful Eight didn’t feel to me like it was anywhere close to three hours long—even with a limited roster of characters and an even more limited setting, it always kept my attention.
There are the aforementioned Tarantino’isms. Samuel L. Jackson has a big, Pulp Fiction style speech. There’s a lot of banter. Tim Roth, though quite good, is so obviously playing the “We asked Christoph Waltz, but he said no” role that it’s a little distracting. The pre-intermission and post-intermission sequences feel like completely different movies, in a way that’s definitely intentional, even if I’m not quite sure what Tarantino was going for with it. (Aside from “Doing Kill Bill 1 and 2 was good. Maybe I’ll try something like that again?”)
Walton Goggins deserves full paragraphs of ASDFGHJKJHGFDSDFGH for his performance here—it’s amazing, the best supporting actor turn of the year by far, and I don’t know why he’s not getting awards season traction along with Jennifer Jason Leigh. (She is also excellent.) I know we have a good number of Justified fans ‘round these parts, and this movie convinced me to give it a shot, just for him.
All-told, The Hateful Eight isn’t among Tarantino’s greatest. It’s not one of the best movies of the year. But it’s not awful, unless you find Tarantino intolerable, in which case, maybe there’s a Star War that’s to your liking.