So Quentin Tarantino decided to construct an elegant allegory of race and gender dynamics in America. You’ll notice I said elegant and not subtle, because subtlety is in very short supply in Tarantino’s Wild West. Which is fine with me. You want subtlety? Listen to an apology from a public relations department. You want to get your face melted off by one of American cinema’s greatest students and teachers, you have to see the Eight.
The story is simple enough; eight gnarly customers are holed up at a house on a secluded mountain during a blizzard. One of them is a bounty hunter escorting a notorious prisoner to her date with the hangman and one (or perhaps more) of the other customers is her accomplice waiting for a chance to bust her loose.
The execution is anything but simple. Tarantino uses every trick in his 70s exploitation bag, including gore, time jumps and Samuel L. Jackson being a ruthless, screen controlling, dynamo. QT’s love of genre play is on full display as the movie morphs from a spaghetti western to a Sherlock Holmes film and back. The story changes from a simple one of a prisoner being delivered to justice to a story of how people survive in a tribalist world with inherent racism and bile for anyone not of the tribe.
The cast is near perfection, with the titular eight being led by inimitable genre legends Kurt Russell and Bruce Dern, Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth, a couple of newer but very recognizable faces from movie and TV in Walton Goggins and Demian Bichir, and the triumphant return of semi-retired Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was one of the best actors of the 80s and 90s, and 2000s and has been somewhat out of the spotlight for the last 10 years. We’ll see her again in the highly anticipated Anomalisa, Rob Reiner’s LBJ biopic and the upcoming Twin Peaks revival. Dern and Russell are titans who control their scenes with confidence. Samuel L. Jackson is so comfortable working with Tarantino at this point that their chemistry becomes the main attraction. Jackson’s turn in Eight as Marquis Warren deserves to be remembered along with Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction), Ordell Robbie (Jackie Brown) and Stephen (Django Unchained) as one his greatest achievements. And he deserves recognition from the Academy. The rest of the supporting cast is almost uniformly stellar as well, though the great Tim Roth, who is reunited with Tarantino here for the first time since Four Rooms (1995) is a bit wasted.
The element that steals the show though, is the artful social commentary of the film. Like Snowpiercer (2013) the story serves as a tight little metaphor for the evolution of larger social systems. The subjugation of one race by another, the inevitable truth of violence, the unremorseful survival of the persecuted — Tarantino uses these philosophical concepts as a playground on which to build his sandcastle. His creative real estate is the rich American tapestry from which he tries to pluck an indelible truth; that the American legacy is not built on profit, but hate.
The parts of the castle are made of homage to his great inspirations; the films of Sergio Corbucci, Petroni, Leone and Glauber Rocha are particularly honored. But there’s also the incognito notes: Rene Clair, Agatha Christie, Stephen King. As usual with his masterpieces, Tarantino is painting with a palette of his formative influences. And he’s in the unique position to get to work with the heroes he grew up admiring, players like Bruce Dern, and doing a masterful job with the score, the great composer Ennio Morricone.
At a not-so-lean 2 hours and 48 minutes, some might be forgiven for a lack of motivation to invest the time in this gem. But those who do will be richly rewarded with one of the best pictures of the year. In hate we trust.
The Hateful Eight will be released wide to theaters on January 8th, it’s currently playing in a limited 100 theater release with special 70mm presentation.