The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Channing Tatum
When you step into a theatre to watch a film by Quentin Tarantino, you are prepared for certain facts – the film will be well crafted, he will serve you violence till bile rises in your throat and he would try to fix history. The last one a trait the auteur has picked up along the way. We saw him playing a make-believe cinema god for the first time in Inglourious Basterds, where he righted the real-life wrongs with some boom and bang. Nazi top brass, Hitler included, were blown to smithereens and all was right with the world.
In Django Unchained, the director was the saviour of slaves, playing fast and loose with Civil War politics. Again, bad guys had their guts spilled to the satisfaction of Tarantino and his legions of fans.
The Hateful Eight can be considered the third of the trilogy, this time the scene is post-bellum Wyoming and the comment is as much on the past as the present of America with its factitious race relations.
Part closed-room mystery, part classic western, part a racial revenge tale, The Hateful Eight is an entertaining, rollicking film just the way Tarantino serves them. And he doesn’t let you forget that it is him all the way despite the inspired cast and crew backing it.
The film tells it is eighth by the director, followed by Robert Richardson’s expansive shots of snow-covered Wyoming set to soaring, sinister score by the great Ennio Morricone. Both box us in, give us a feel of claustrophobia and impending doom before we even reach the closed room where most of the film takes place.
The tone set, Tarantino introduces us to the dramatis personae – a motley bunch of crooks and bounty hunters. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter transporting his latest quarry Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock where she will hang for her crimes and he will collect a bounty of $10,000. As a blizzard hits, he picks up two stranded travellers on the way – Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Warren is a former Union soldier who proudly wears his colours and also has a letter written by Abraham Lincoln. He is also aware that when it comes to the nub, none of this will save him from racial insults. He meets just the man to dish them out in Mannix, a renegade soldier who fought on the side of Confederacy and claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock.
Snowed in by the blizzard, this unlikely quartet and their stagecoach driver head to an inn in the middle of nowhere called Minnie’s Harbedashery. Mary and her crew are missing and the caretaker is a man of few words called Mexican Joe (Demián Bichir). Former Confederate general Smithers (Bruce Dern), an Englishman who says he is the local hangman (Tim Roth) and a cowboy who is visiting his mama (Michael Madsen) make the other faces of this cosy little group.
This is where the mystery kicks in – is everybody actually who they are purporting to be? Is any of what they are saying is true? What is not a mystery is that most of them will be dead by various ingenious means before the film is over. Tarantino keeps on building up to the violence through the voluble first half where the characters are given long (but interesting) dialogues to introduce themselves, trade insults and threats and share curious histories. Some, or none, of them are true. Edged with black humour, the verbal give-and-take has quite a few gems.
Ruth, who likes to take his bounty alive, tells Marquis, who prefers them dead: “No one said this job was supposed to be easy.” To which Marquis answer is, “Nobody said it’s supposed to be that hard, either!”
By the time violence kicks in, we are ready for it. Comic book blood bath is Tarantino’s specialty and he doesn’t disappoint. People are poisoned, some have their brains spilled while others are shot in their nether regions. It is thrilling and entertaining still but after a while, you do yearn for someone to say ‘cut’. People with weaker stomachs have already left the theatre, thereby sifting the fanboys from the rest of the world.
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And it’s not just the blood-and-gore violence; it is the mind games the characters play with each other and the audience. A whole sequence involving Jackson and Dern about the murder of an off-screen character is a copybook exercise in acting and scriptwriting. The scene establishes Jackson as the chief player among the cast, a man who is bent on some racial payback.
Seasoned performers own the film. Leigh, who earned an Oscar nomination for her troubles, probably makes for the most sinned-against member of the group – she is elbowed, has her jaw broken, is vomited on and is shot at. But she likes to give it back as good as she gets. A particular frame where she smiles into the camera, blood running down her face, is especially memorable.
Tarantino has famously announced that he will make two more films before calling it a day and that’s fortunate. For this film may make for an entertaining ride but it is not the director’s best. And then, there are so many wrongs in the real world that we would like Tarantino right – with some guns and bombs, of course.