Start watching “The Hateful Eight” in its 70mm format and you’re greeted by an overture from film composer Ennio Morricone. It’s about a three-minute, uneasy, churning and suspenseful introductory sequence, where the sound of a shrill whistle and evil-sounding horn plays a progression of notes in an ominous progression.
It’s like a slithering snake and you feel uneasy, but simultaneously thrilled and eager about the dark sequence of events that you know is about to happen in director Quentin Tarantino’s latest work of brilliance.
“The Hateful Eight” is a about a group of charismatic liars, thieves and bounty hunters that find their way into Minnie’s Haberdashery – a lodge within the middle of nowhere - where they’re forced to stick together because of a harsh blizzard. Given that the story takes place just post-Civil War, within the Western frontier and involves a cast of, well, degenerates, you can guess that something bad’s going to happen.
In standard Tarantino style, a large portion of the film involves the characters discussing the politics and societal problems of their era, as well as occasionally divulging their own personal backgrounds. The dialogue seems like vacuous small talk - and it totally is, like when Tim Roth’s Oswaldo Mobray rants about the difference between vigilante and lawful justice. Yet, it creates a level of constant tension, where the future is unpredictable. It’s “And Then There Were None” meets “The Searchers.”
As you learn more and more about each character’s personality - and trust me, all of them are filled with a tremendous amount of depth - you will find yourself questioning everyone. Maybe you’ll initially think the hero is Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren, who fought in the Civil War against slavery and is the only man of color within the main group of characters, but when you find out more about what he actually did, your jaw will drop.
But who else do you have to root for? Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue is the only woman out of the “Hateful Eight,” but also a racist outlaw. Her captor, Kurt Russell’s John Ruth, is a misogynistic and abusive bounty hunter who has a reputation for gleefully bringing his prisoners alive, just to watch them hang? Walton Goggins’ Chris Mannix, a to-be sheriff of a local town, seems like an honorable enough guy, but he practically switches between different Western tropes each scene, is as dumb as a doorknob and basically a Confederate sympathizer.
The static settings of each act only add to a wonderful theatrical element, where characters often use props to convey some aspect of their personality. For instance, take how Michael Madsen’s enigmatic, quiet and cowboy-esque Joe Gage sits in his chair, isolated from everyone else, writing in his notebook. In a movie filled with several other little details, they all add up to make a believable and exciting experience. There’s also a good amount of subtle and cinematic foreshadowing, though you might not notice at a first viewing.
Technically speaking, “The Hateful Eight” is damn near perfect. Tarantino takes gorgeous camera shots that will sometimes make you gasp at the Western frontier’s beauty, even with the movie’s slow pace, simple settings and dialogue-oriented style of storytelling.
Morricone’s soundtrack is possibly the best cinematic score you will ever hear, as the menacing, climactic and simultaneously chaotic music just about perfectly encapsulates the movie’s mood and themes. It’s like a ticking time bomb, but you don’t know when it’s going to blow up.
Make no mistake: everyone is a degenerate in some way - and it’s often easier to be brought together by mutual hatred than anything else. Tarantino warps his viewers expectations of right and wrong by creating an immersive world of morally grey (but leaning closer to dark) and charismatic characters that are just about a few seconds, betrayals and plot twists from having an excuse to pull the trigger on each other.
“The Hateful Eight” is a whodunnit-Western blend and a cinematic marvel that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Add in a weirdly poignant, but fitting ending and you’ll have what might not be an Academy Award-winning film, but probably one of Tarantino’s finest works of art and definitely one of my favorite movies in recent memory.