Nobody has done more in the last two decades to aestheticize violence and bring it to the mainstream than Quentin Tarantino. Such elements existed in spades in B movies and Japanese Horror but he took those elements and turned them into Oscar worthy dramas because he was not merely imitating but creating his own original concoction, a heady mixture of carefully plotted sagas where everybody eventually dies, but not before entertaining you with some cutting edge dialogues, pitch black humour and socio-political commentary you never expected in such films earlier.
So, does Hateful Eight live up to the expectations? Does it satisfy the audience in a manner a Tarantino film should?
Let’s hold that thought for a while and get back to the basics first. Hateful Eight is about a bunch of 19th century, post-civil war, people who get stranded in a claustrophobic inn in the midst of nowhere, that too during a blizzard that is severe and blinding. A couple of bounty hunters, a dreaded criminal arrested by one of the bounty hunters, and a few others park their coach and seek refuge in the place that already has a few more people with their own agendas. Needless to say that they are not very fond of each other and need only an excuse to fire their respective guns. But they must spend a couple of days locked inside that wooden cabin till the blizzard subsides. The only awkward part here is the number “eight” because even at the start there are nine people inside, not including the people who show up later.
So, it is not sure who is being excluded in the title, nevertheless that hardly affects the larger scheme of things.
Their respective histories, characteristics and motives become clearer through their respective interactions as Tarantino displays one of his primary skills, that of dialogue writing, in spades. Almost everyone has something to hide but the truth is peeled layer after layer as the film progresses, organically, without any deus-ex-machina. As a western, a lot of gunfight and action is naturally expected from a film like this and it does occur in the end. But the action takes its own sweet time to come to its elements. Hateful Eight makes people wait in anticipation as the ground is slowly cleared for the climactic standoff, not before there is a twist in the tale, explained with a flashback.
Coming to the performances, this film is probably Tarantino’s gift of appreciation to Samuel L Jackson, one of his long time collaborators. He leads this excellent ensemble cast consisting of Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern and even Channing Tatum (Yes, that guy from 21 Jump Street) but the one who stands on par with Jackson is Jennifer Jason Leigh with her chillingly psychotic performance the only woman in the principal cast. Just like his previous film Django Unchained, Tarantino also pays homage to great westerns of yore through this film. One can see traces of Stagecoach (1937) in the characters while the snow clad landscapes during the blizzard remind one of The Great Silence (1968). The deliberate use of 70 mm cinemascope also ensures a retro feel throughout.
So, coming to the original question, yes Hateful Eight is an out and out Tarantino film where he polishes and almost meditates over the tropes he has used over the years, in an effort to perfect them even further. He builds the tension in the best traditions of Spaghetti Western but makes it even more strenuous by using the black protagonist who infuses racial tension, sometimes overt and sometimes understated. The violence, as mentioned earlier, takes time to arrive but when it does, it delivers not only enough for Tarantino lovers but also for the fans of Japanese gore movies. QT lovers should just book the tickets while his haters should realize that it will be even more painful for them than his previous films.