The good news about “The Hateful Eight” is that I, a huge fan of director Quentin Tarantino, think he’s done it again. And everybody at my had-to-have-been-sold-out screening on Christmas Eve seemed to be in agreement. But many critics aren’t happy with the film and audiences overall aren’t responding as well as I’d like. It barely scraped together enough for a third place finish in its first weekend of nationwide release. People are missing out on this movie, and it’s a shame because it’s as good as any Tarantino project from the last decade and quite possibly the best film of 2015.
The film takes place during a blizzard in post-Civil War Wyoming. The story opens with stranded bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) hitching a ride in the stagecoach of fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell). Ruth is transporting gang member Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be hanged, making him one of the few bounty hunters to opt for the “Alive” portion of “Dead or Alive.” Along the way they also pick up the stranded Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a Confederate holdout who doesn’t care much for Warren.
The foursome and their hapless driver (James Parks) arrive at a lodge where they meet four more strangers. Bob (Demian Bichir) is a Mexican in temporary charge of the unflinchingly anti-Mexican establishment. Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) is the dapper local hangman who will likely be performing his duties on Daisy. Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) is a cowboy and… that’s about all he’ll tell about himself. General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) is a retired Confederate leader who doesn’t care much for Warren at first and cares for him even less after Warren tells him about an icy encounter he had with his missing son. There’s a lot of tension in the room: racial, political, territorial, legal, moral, monetary, and personal. It’s only a matter of time before things turn violent. And then it turns out that some of the violence might be occurring for yet another reason: loyalty.
The plot, admittedly, is the film’s weakest point. Tarantino has a tendency to sabotage his movies by filling them with complicated schemes that are not only unnecessary, but foolish. A lot of blood could have gone unspilled in “Django Unchained” if Django and King Schultz had just offered to buy the slave they wanted instead of hatching a baffling plan to get her thrown in with a Mandingo fighter they weren’t serious about buying. And there’s no reason why the villain(s) in this movie couldn’t dispatch their enemies accurately and efficiently in under a minute, except that it wouldn’t allow time for mind games between the characters. But oh how those mind games more than redeem this movie.
The best thing about “The Hateful Eight,” as with all Quentin Tarantino movies, is the dialogue. Man’s inhumanity to Man has never been so savory, not even when it’s happening to a woman (and it does, a lot). Also worthy of praise is the acting, again done best when the characters are being inhumane or better yet, hateful. Even with the film attracting detractors, Jennifer Jason Leigh is high in the running for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. I could also see Supporting Actor nominations for Samuel L. Jackson (which would be his first nomination since Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” over twenty years ago) and Walton Goggins (finally getting a decent movie role that complements his years of brilliant, unrecognized television work).
This is not a movie for everybody. Viewers who abhor gunplay, bloodshed, foul language, racial epithets, violence against women, and many other types of meanness are going to hate this movie. But if you’ve enjoyed Quentin Tarantino movies in the past, or are truly ready to throw yourself into one now, this is an excellent way to spend three hours.
“The Hateful Eight” is rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity. Its running time is 187 minutes.