Although he's become, arguably, a much more divisive figure in recent years, Quentin Tarantino is a director who certainly knows how to sell his product. The hype machine for The Hateful Eight started up quite a while ago, and continues while the movie is on release (thanks to the limited 70mm screenings - which are even more limited here in the UK, unfortunately). Which makes it hard to process if you come out of the cinema having not completely loved one of his films. Thankfully, that's a rare occurence. Aside from Death Proof (which I still rate as a solid 7/10) and the second volume of Kill Bill, I've never felt disappointed by Tarantino. I have an idea of what to expect going in, and he delivers.
The Hateful Eight is his second Western, coming along after his first full feature in the genre (the superb Django Unchained). Whereas the film before it, however, was a lively mixture of violence, comedy, and discomfort, The Hateful Eight turns out to be quite a different animal. Despite still having a similar mix of ingredients, in differing amounts (which I guess you could say about every Tarantino film, of course).
Kurt Russell plays John Ruth, a man travelling with a woman named Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh). He's taking Daisy to the town of Red Rock to collect a bounty and see her hung. Unfortunately, the wagon that the pair are travelling in can barely keep ahead of a blizzard that's on their tails. Major Marquis Warren (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is stuck in the snow, and eventually receives a life from Ruth. As does Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a little while later. And the new quartet get themselves to Minnie's Haberdashery, just in time to get much-needed shelter and warmth, where they meet some other men who are also avoiding the blizzard. But everything might not be as it seems.
Taking cues from his previous works, Agatha Christie, and The Thing, Tarantino would seem to have lined up another treat for fans. The cast certainly stay on the top of their game - alongside those mentioned, viewers will enjoy turns from Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen, as well as a few others. The premise is solid. And the framing and cinematography is often gorgeous, even if the majority of the movie takes place in the one location.
The big surprise here is also the biggest disappointment. The writing isn't up to scratch. Oh, there are moments that will tickle your earbuds, and moments that I am sure the cast absolutely relished sinking their teeth into, but there are also some big mis-steps. For example, one scene shows a character who barely brings himself to talk to another character, except in anger. But that only last a few scenes, only until Tarantino NEEDS the characters to talk in order to set up a big scene. Then we have two scenes that utilise a voiceover narration because, well, I just don't know why. If the whole movie had the same kind of commentary then it would be fine, or if the scenes couldn't be expressed in a purely visual manner, but it doesn't and they could. Making the decision to clumsily chat over just a couple of random scenes quite a bewlidering one.
The other aspect of the writing to cause some frustration is the level of self-cannibalising that Tarantino indulges in. Viewers know that you can rely on ol' QT to pepper his movies with a veritable cornucopia of references to other films, which is part of the joy, but when he sprinkles in enough moments that feel as if they're referencing his own past glories then it's hard not to think that you're watching a copy of a copy, inevitably appearing as a weaker image. Even the one or two songs used on the soundtrack don't feel right. They just feel as if they've been put there by a man who knows that it's expected of him. This may seem like a minor niggle, and something not worthy of this full paragraph, but once it's noticed it then becomes hard to completely enjoy the movie without considering the shadow cast over it.
But let me clarify something. Although I have gone on about the negative aspects of the movie, I still had a hell of a great time with The Hateful Eight. I was on board as soon as Russell and Jackson started to speak to one another and every subsequent character introduction set another smile on my face (especially Roth, who really should be getting more great movie roles). There's an original score by Ennio Morricone for fans to enjoy. And when the script works, as it does in many instances, then you can revel in the simple pleasure of great actors delivering great lines.
Overall, this is far from his best work. But I'll take a lesser Tarantino movie over many other viewing choices, any day.
NB - due to the fact that I don't live within a reasonable distance of Leicester Square in London, the version of the movie that I watched wasn't the full 70mm version, that comes complete with a few minutes of extra footage, overture, and intermission. BUT all of you lucky Edinburgh folk, and anyone near enough to commute, DO get the chance to see the full version next month, at The Filmhouse - http://www.filmhousecinema.com/showing/the-hateful-eight-70mm-feb16/
Pick up this Tarantino boxset here, to tide you over until The Hateful Eight is released - http://www.amazon.com/Quentin-Tarantino-Ultimate-Collection-Blu-ray/dp/B00U1QGJBM/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1452156857&sr=1-1&keywords=quentin+tarantino