After Django Unchained, Tarantino began work on another Western which he named The Hateful Eight. The film’s script was leaked somehow and Tarantino decided to release it as book instead and not make it at all. Thank god he changed his mind and we have another superbly crafted and endlessly entertaining Tarantino film in our midst. From the very first scene you know that you are into a Tarantino film. The sweeping cinematography, the dazzling soundtrack and the engrossing performances are all there. What you have in addition to that is a format and visual style which could only have been brought back by someone like Tarantino. More on that later.
John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is transporting a criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a place called Red Rock where she could be hanged. On his way through the snow-covered Wyoming, he encounters two strangers who ask for his help as they are stranded by an unrelenting blizzard. These people are Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter who has his own load of three dead bodies that he is transporting for the rewards that it entails and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a man who introduces himself as the to-be Sheriff of Red Rock. John Ruth accommodates both of them and ploughing through the snow and the ever worsening blizzard they soon arrive at a place called Minnie’s Haberdashery.
Here the men meet four more other people who are already there at the Haberdashery. As the blizzard gets worse, the four men decide to put up with the other four individuals even though some of them quickly find themselves at crossroads with each other. John Ruth cannot help but feel threatened by these individuals as he believes that these men might want to snatch Daisy from him so that they could turn her over themselves for the reward. He also feels that there might be someone among the men who wants to free Daisy from his clasps. Soon his fears become very real.
Unlike some of Tarantino’s previous films which have intricate subplots and subtle yet mind boggling plot twists and turns, The Hateful Eight is pretty simple. It follows a linear path of storytelling and there are no subplots. There is a flashback in the third act of the movie and that too is done in the most simplistic manner possible. Where this film scores heavily is in the performances and the mood that the film is able to set up. I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy the film that much in my first viewing. It felt that it dragged and till the time we reached the climax, I felt unnerved by some of the scene which involved the characters talking within themselves.
However, in the second viewing, I was able to put my fingers on the subtle clues that the director left all throughout the first and second act hinting at the bigger plan in motion at the Haberdashery. Samuel L. Jackson plays a character that has one of the most radical arcs that I have seen in recent times. I went from loving his character to hating him and then back to loving him. Now that I have seen the film twice, I still am confused whether to love him or hate him. The man is sheer genius and when he talks, he holds you attention. Kurt Russell is sensational. He is the only character who has a clear layout and you know exactly what he is all about. His one to ones with Jackson is a treat to watch.
Walton Goggins is immensely likeable as Mannix. He has the next most radical character arc after Jackson. The two start off pitted against each other and then go places from there. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character has the plot of the film written all over her face. If one carefully looks at her expressions in the film as I did (after being advised by a friend), one can practically sense what is about to happen next. She is terrific in the third act. Tim Roth has been a favorite of mine for a long time and he is wonderful here. He has the most lines among the antagonists if you may call him so and I couldn’t take my eyes off him everytime he expressed his views with all the theatricalities. There is a lot of violence and bloodshed towards the end and all of it is thoroughly justified. It is safe to say that The Hateful Eight has a lot less in terms of plot in comparison to other Tarantino Films. But what it lacks in terms of plot and subplots, it more than makes up for in performances, style and treatment.
Continuing on Tarantino’s love for traditional filming techniques, the Hateful Eight is shot entirely on 65 mm film with rest of the 5 mm making up for the sound. It is shot using the Panavision Ultra Wide lenses which gives an aspect ratio of 1.27:1. This is the widest angle possible in cinema. The footage looks tremendous. I have heard complaints regarding the need of shooting a film which unfolds mostly in a Haberdashery using such wide lenses which are meant for films much grander in scope. Believe me, when you see this films those complains are going to vanish. This is easily one of the best looking films of the year. Tarantino proves that even in a film like The Hateful Eight there is plenty of scope for using wide angles and he uses it as a tool to transpose beauty and drama.
Close-ups, wide shots, mid-shots, deep focus coupled with the some innovative lighting and the amazing look that the 65 mm film brings to this tale are ones to fall in love with. The images are not only vivid but very cinematic which brings an almost nostalgic feel to the whole tale. I heard an interview with some Panavision people and they gleefully admitted the fact that the last film shot with these lenses was the 60s classic Khartoum. You can imagine the novelty of the shooting style here and the best thing about it is that it is not merely used as a prop or a thing of nostalgia but it seriously affects the style and mood of the storytelling. The film is brimming with radiant colors and organic camera movements which are reminiscent to a master painters brushstrokes. The editing complements the visuals wonderfully. John Dykstra, the man behind the Star Wars films designs the special effects which seamlessly integrate with the storytelling and that I believe is the best complement I can extend to it.
Overall, The Hateful Eight is yet another superb offering from Tarantino. Even though its lighter in terms of content compared to some of Tarantino’s other works, it still packs a punch. My advice is to watch it multiple times. For me the film became more and more interesting with each view. I believe that will be the case with the majority of viewers. It’s easily one of the best films of the year.