Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, Christmas came just on time this year. But not because of the fat, red, bearded man that invades your houses and eats your cookies. No, no, it came because of the master of the retro genre of Cinema with the receding hairline – Quentin Tarantino. This man needs no introduction as he is probably one of THE most famous contemporary directors, and easily my favourite. Just a few short days ago, I had the opportunity to see his Hateful Eight in glorious 70mm, in a stuffy little theatre in the heart of Toronto. The air was humid with ill-disguised body odor, the floor was sticky wet from the recent cleaning, there was no commercials and no obnoxious Time Play. I was in for a proper good ol’ days movie experience.
The best way I can categorize The Hateful Eight is a suspense western. It starts off with a Civil War veteran, now turned bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) transporting three dead bodies to collect his bounty in the nearby town of Red Rock. On his way there, he hitches a ride from another famous bounty hunter, John The Hangman Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is also taking a bounty to Red Rock – alive. His bounty happens to be a mysterious Daisy Domergue, who happens to be worth a solid $10,000 – a very high price for a bounty, let alone a woman, let alone a woman nobody knows anything about. She’s the first to get our eyebrows arching. However, on their way to Red Rock, they get caught in a severe blizzard, and have to make a stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, an inn for travellers. There they have to spend the next few nights with a selection of characters – Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a strong-silent-type cowboy, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Red Rock’s quirky and eccentric hangman, Señor Bob (Demián Bichir), the replacement host at Minnie’s, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be Red Rock’s new sheriff, and a General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a retired ex-General from the South. Not everyone is who they seem to be, and the why, what, and how is left shrouded in mystery.
Tarantino is truly a master of genre. When famously asked about his education in film, he responded “I went to the movies.” This man has seen his fair share of retro films and then some, and then some on top of that some. So everything from the dialogue, to the camera shots, to the music is absolutely on point. This man takes you in a time capsule to the heyday of westerns and lets you marinate in it while he does what he does best – and gives you grade A dialogue and character development. Now, the bit that’s not a western is the suspense and mystery. This movie’s a bit like those old films from the 70’s that were more or less a re-enactment of a mystery novella. “A scientist, a newly married couple, a millionaire tycoon, and an eccentric hunter are all drawn together by mysterious circumstances at a dinner party. But when guests start disappearing one by one, a horrible secret is revealed. But WHO is the killer?” You know, that kind of tosh. And that is a field in which Tarantino absolutely excels in. If you have seen his Inglorious Basterds, you might recall the bar scene. I think it is something like 30 minutes long, and it is just pure suspense. Tarantino puts six characters in a room, on a table, drinking beer, just talking, and it has you gripping your chair harder than any other thriller or action movie you’ve seen in the last two decades. So you get a pleasant mishmash of that and the western vibe. And in this movie you get the same thing, only it’s for three hours and it keeps you hooked for EVERY-DAMN-MINUTE. How many other directors can make a movie that doesn’t leave the confines of a room three hours long, and not lose the audience? Again, just raw talent.
Another little ball of fan-boy joy comes in the shape of Samuel L. Jackson (uhmm, yeah, phrasing…). We’ve seen him as Jules in Pulp Fiction, we’ve seen him as Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown, and also as Stephen in Django Unchained. But I’ve really wanted to see him front and centre in a Tarantino movie. Just because he has that inherent badassery that seems to work so well in Tarantino’s universe. is there honestly a human being out there that doesn’t believe Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t put on this earth with the divine purpose of saying “motherfucker”? And even though this movie doesn’t really have a main character, Samuel L. Jackson is very much front row and centre in this movie, and I loved every bit of it. Major Warren’s a pretty curious character. He is undoubtedly a stone-cold killer and a badass, but he also carries on his person at all times a mysterious letter from Abraham Lincoln himself, a point of great curiosity for the other characters. And you can also tell he’s seen some shit. He’s a black man following the aftermath of the Civil War, and it don’t take too many guesses to imagine the things he’s been subjected to, and the things he’s seen. But even with all that he retains an air of mystery throughout most of the movie which makes him a very enjoyable character.
Another tip of the hat has to undoubtedly go to Jennifer Jason Leigh. In my mind, that’s what a perfect cast looks like. Fifteen seconds into her appearance in the movie, and you forget that’s an actor acting. She just IS Daisy Domergue. I know I’m beginning to use this term one too many times, but this IS a Tarantino film, god damn it! She is also an absolute badass. And that’s not an easy feat when you’re the only woman in a group of men, all who seem to be great bounty hunters, war heroes, and stone-cold killers. When we first see her, she already has a pretty serious black eye. She doesn’t hesitate mouthing off to John Ruth, which is no small feat, as he’s a hulking, intimidating bear of a man. He often hits her pretty brutally in retaliation, but it doesn’t seem to humble her any. She often repays the act with a bloody smile, as though she’s in on a secret no one else is. Astounding performance, I really hope Jennifer Leigh gets nominated for an Oscar for this, though I am sure she probably won’t.
This movie’s got everything you need – good dialogue, engaging characters, amazing suspense, and a whole lot of love letters to genres long forgotten. You simply can’t waste $15 on this movie, it’s well worth the watch. Thank you, Mr. Tarantino for bringing Christmas to us movie lovers this year!