The Hateful Eight Review
With a $10,000 prize named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in tow, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) comes upon a stranded man amidst a ferocious snowstorm. He agrees to let the man, fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), ride along in his stagecoach on the way to Minnie's Haberdashery, where they'll wait out the blizzard, and then on to Red Rock, Wyoming. They soon discover yet another lonely wanderer in need of help in the form of Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), also headed to Red Rock where he claims he'll be the town's new sheriff. The remaining half of the title group in Quentin Tarantino's "8th film" awaits us inside Minnie's, the single room stopover with a broken door that is the setting for much of The Hateful Eight.
By the time these four characters, along with the dutiful stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks), reach that dark, wooden interior the seeds of paranoia and betrayal that drive much of the epic-length film have already been planted. Ruth, nicknamed the "hangman" because he takes his bounties alive and delivers them to be hanged, comes across as naturally distrusting and even suggests Warren and Mannix could be - separately or together - plotting to steal away Domergue and the ten grand on her head. It's this lingering sense of suspicion that fuels what is, considering all of the external factors swirling around, a remarkably lightweight plot. The interest Tarantino conjures up is owed primarily to his strength of filmmaking and the central mystery of who, if anyone, is collaborating with Domergue.
The other four Hateful Eight-ers are bunkered down at Minnie's for their own reasons while the snow blows through the area. There's Confederate General Smithers (Bruce Dern), the patented old man element of the plot, and a couple of foreigners - Bob (Demian Bichir), a Mexican looking after the place while Minnie's away, and Oswaldo (Tim Roth), a British hangman on his way to Red Rock- to serve as possible distractions. The gruff-voiced Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy or outlaw or something, rounds out the bunch. The idea is that these eight (or nine, if you include O.B.) must survive the storm and each other for a couple of days until it's safe to continue the journey to Red Rock. It's a pretty classic plot, western or otherwise, but rarely has it been attempted by a work approaching three hours in length.
To the credit of the film and its director, The Hateful Eight only rarely threatens to drag during its hefty running time. It mostly coasts along with violent tension and a knack for unpredictability. People die bloody deaths and they do so often. These characters are comfortably in Tarantino's usual mold of being interesting enough to spend time with yet still not quite so three-dimensional as to venture beyond the realm of fiction. There's a fascinating flashback sequence - perfectly timed as a means of delaying the inevitable - that probably argues as much as anything else in the film for there to simply be more going on here. It's a reminder that Tarantino has a made a career of being interesting and entertaining. Substance or subtext has never really been the idea so it's tough to fault him there, but the comparative emptiness of the entertainment level here is a more than valid complaint.
The ingredients at Tarantino's disposal are so vast - everything from a typically dynamic cast of actors to the audacious choice to shoot in Ultra Panavision and do a limited roadshow release in 70mm - that it's natural to enter with high expectations. But with such notions comes perhaps dangerous hopes and needs. It just feels like, regardless of truth, that Tarantino can do pretty much anything he wants with whomever he wants at this stage in his career, and that ultimately makes The Hateful Eight something of a disappointment. The ambition here is all style and no substance, and even that comes off as muted by the single-location look of much of the picture. Had this been a 95-minute, tension-filled potboiler shot (on film, of course) without the emphasis on the format then it might have delivered upon its implicit promises. Instead, there's a helium-filled balloon here that, as shiny and fun as it is to look at, fails to nourish once it's been popped.
While UK viewers wait a few more weeks for the release of The Hateful Eight on DVD and Blu-ray, the U.S. edition is now available from the Weinstein Company. Being reviewed here is the Blu-ray edition with a DVD and Digital HD code packaged inside the case. It is Region A-locked and comes with a nifty slipcover which opens up to a drawn image of the snow-covered exterior of Minnie's Haberdashery.
Worth noting, as it's been something of a concern on certain areas of the internet, is that this presentation is only the standard theatrical one, and not the longer (with six minutes of footage and an intermission) alternative from the Roadshow.
Shot in 65mm and blown up to 70mm for a special Roadshow version, the film has been transferred in the wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio for its home video release. It looks exceptionally good. Detail is outstanding. Clarity simply impresses on every level. This is top of the line stuff.
Audio similarly registers quite well. The aural impression, via dialogue, effects and, especially, the soundtrack and Ennio Morricone's Oscar-winning score, is quite strong. Rarely has wind made such a looming impact based largely on sound. The Blu-ray uses a DTS HD-MA 5.1 track as the default and it sounds outstanding. There's also a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dub option. The DVD opts for English Dolby Digital 5.1 but retains the Spanish track. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired and in Spanish.
Special features are limited here. There's a short, basic behind the scenes featurette (4:58) with brief interviews. Also, perhaps further offending those unhappy by the lack of Roadshow footage, we have "Sam Jackson's Guide to Glorious 70mm" (7:49), a featurette describing some of the specialness behind that alternate theatrical presentation and the format associated with it.