Quentin Tarantino’s previous film, Django Unchained, starred Jamie Foxx as the freed slave Django and the pre-Civil War Deep South as the chains. His new film, The Hateful Eight – announced in the opening credits as his eighth – takes place in the post-war West, but otherwise is a neat reprise of the previous film.
There is a white bounty hunter, his black associate (a memorable performance by Samuel L. Jackson) and the same looseness of history coursing through a profusely wordy script. Characters wind their way through seemingly endless threads of dialogue, only to blow each other apart in a blood-drenched apocalypse. Like the unchaining of Django, it’s the kind of feature one either very much relishes or reviles.
Since the start of his career, Tarantino has invited us to watch his films not as visions of reality, but as illustrations of ideas that merge into a world view. In The Hateful Eight, he has gathered together all the elements of a classic murder mystery and, as usual, he strings them out and gleefully stirs them together in a slow-cooking stew. But, rather than deal it out as it comes to the boil, he blows it up and delights in the spray of blood and organs over his guests.
In the format of Hollywood classics, The Hateful Eight begins with an overture and is divided into two further parts by an intermission. The action in the first half unfolds in a stagecoach carrying the cruel bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his victim, the murder suspect Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), on their way to her execution in the town of Red Rock. They pick up two more passengers, the bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Mannix (Walton Goggins), the soon-to-be sheriff of Red Rock.
The coach is headed for a saloon called Minnie’s Haberdashery, where we meet the rest of the shifty suspects: Bob the Mexican (Demián Bichir), and an unapologetic racist and Confederate veteran (Bruce Dern). We also encounter the duo of silent muscle man and pernickety little Brit, played by Michael Madsen and Tim Roth, who still exude a whiff of earlier Tarantino films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.
The climax of the film is one toward which all of Tarantino’s recent works have rushed, and fans will glory in the enthusiasm with which it accelerates into slaughter. Those who take particular delight in such cinematic opulence as a duel of facial hair and pipe smoke between Russell and Jackson will also find their pleasure here. But those who see history not as something to be toyed with, but as the fertile ground for something far more elegant, will certainly find The Hateful Eight most hateful indeed.