The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, is a masterpiece of the slow build.
Every lingering shot and slow conversation in Act One pays off in the second, and then some. And although the long running time could be cut down by losing some of the seemingly endless panning shots, it all adds to the tentative, uneasy mood which is lovingly cultivated over the course of three hours.
We begin by following two bounty hunters, played by Samuel L Jackson and Kurt Russell, who are each heading to Red Rock with their haul, dead and alive respectfully. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren bargains for a place on John Ruth (Russell)’s stagecoach to escape the blizzard that’s chasing them. Along with Ruth’s prisoner, murderess Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and Red Rock’s new sheriff (Walton Goggins) who also needs a ride, they stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery to wait out the weather.
There, they meet an offbeat group including growly and moody Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), eccentric English hangman Oswaldo Mobray (a brilliant Tim Roth), Mexican Bob who’s running the place (Demian Bichir), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), who fuels some racially-charged tension.
But Ruth is paranoid that someone in that cabin is in cahoots with his prisoner and, of course, it turns out nothing is as it seemed when they first entered Minnie’s Haberdashery.
The construction of the story is the most fascinating thing about this film. The Ennio Morricone faux-overture over the credits leads into Chapter One which, like the rest, has a heading and title screen before launching back into the action.
It’s an unusual device that makes it clear how carefully the plot is ordered and is filled with foreshadowing. In some cinemas there is even an intermission, but this mid-point is made clear regardless with the sudden use of narration to catch the viewer up and remind them of certain points.
The film is just Tarantino through and through, clearly a labour of love with some of his best-loved actors, an unpredictable story and plenty of gruesome gore which the camera certainly doesn’t shy away from…
But as his first with an predominantly original soundtrack (from Morricone, emulating his classic Westerns), he’s trying something new too, and totally pulling it off with the well-judged motifs that subtly enhance the on-screen action and add to the creeping tension.
It’s best not to give anything else away but suffice to say this: it’s worth sitting through this long film, no matter your initial sense of dread at the running time. It’s visually, musically, and structurally brilliant.