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“The Hateful Eight” is fittingly Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature length film, and like the movies that have preceded it, it’s pretty damn good. Tarantino has a way of making despicable characters extremely likeable through a blend of witty dialogue and quirky delivery, and there’s a sense of moral neutrality which permeates his films; it’s much the same here, which is necessary because every character is a bit of an arse. Violence plays out on screen in a blunt and destructive manner; heads are blown off, limbs are severed, and manhood’s are splattered all over the floor, yet the audience’s collective reaction is one of laughter. “The Hateful Eight” is actually very funny, even when awful things are happening, and it is this attribute which makes it a great film to watch.

To explain exactly what this movie is about would ruin it for anyone who hasn’t already seen it, because the motivations of the characters involved aren’t fully revealed until the film’s final act. However, I can flesh out the set-up for the bulk of the movie to give you an idea of what the story is about.

As the film opens the camera follows a stagecoach driving through a blizzard towards Red Rock, Wyoming; on this stagecoach are John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter who goes by the name of The Hangman, and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who has received an Oscar nomination for the role), a murderer worth $10,000. Before we meet them the stagecoach stops in front of a traveller with no transportation – this traveller is another bounty hunter who goes by the name of Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). John Ruth reluctantly allows Warren to travel with him in the stagecoach, due to the fact that the pair have met before, and together they continue towards Red Rock with Domergue.

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Along the way they bump into another straggler, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a racist who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock – after a debate he persuades John Ruth to give him a ride on the stagecoach, explaining that he will be the person who pays the bounty on Domergue’s head, and as such it would defeat the purpose of the trip to leave him stranded in the snow.

After a heated argument between Warren and Mannix, the colourful foursome take refuge from the blizzard at a place known as Minnie’s Haberdashery, although Minnie (Dana Gourrier) herself is nowhere to be found. A man named Bob (Demián Bichir) comes out to meet them, and inside there are three more men; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). There you have “The Hateful Eight” – The Bounty Hunter, The Hangman, The Prisoner, The Sheriff, The Mexican, The Little Man, The Cow Puncher, and The Confederate.

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It’s a long first act, but this is a long movie, and to Tarantino’s credit he manages to flesh out the characters of Ruth, Domergue, Warren, and Mannix quickly and with minimal fuss. Before the rest of the eight were even introduced I felt as though I had a handle on the nature of these four characters, which made the film that bit more entertaining when things began to spiral out of control, as I had to decide whether or not I believed what they had previously been saying.

A lot of the history revealed in the opening moments is later reintroduced in order to create conflict, so you need to pay attention – there’s a lot of groundwork being done right under your nose through what appears to be idle conversation. Tarantino really is a master at conveying exposition without making it obvious to the audience; his unique dialogue, coupled with the strange way in which it is delivered, means that you can never be sure which statements are important and which are plain nonsense, and thus you never feel as though you are being force-fed information.

One of the best things about “The Hateful Eight”, at least in my opinion, is that it manages to be constantly funny despite having some very dark moments. There’s racism, murder, and even the suggestion that one character may have forced another to perform oral sex against their will, yet I personally never felt uncomfortable. Now, I know that my tolerance for these things is probably higher than most people’s, but I found myself not only accepting these moments, but physically laughing. Tarantino’s characters are so cartoonish and brutal that it’s hard to take them at all seriously, which could be seen as a criticism if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s so clearly intentional. People often say that Tarantino’s movies are too violent, but from my perspective it’s this excessiveness that makes the violence seem completely normal and actually quite endearing, especially given the fact that the characters performing the actions are obviously inclined towards being sadistic and deranged.

From what I’ve said so far it’s probably apparent that I’m a fan of Tarantino’s style, but even so, if the cast didn’t perform in the right off-kilter way then “The Hateful Eight” wouldn’t have worked. Lucky for Tarantino then that the performances are almost all spot on. Long-time collaborator with Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson, is at his best in this film, which is great to see because he hasn’t really shone in a lead role for a while. He’s typically crass and over-the-top, but he also portrays the fact that Major Warren has seen it all in his life, and that it is his experiences which have lead him to become the cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch that we see in this film. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Kurt Russell also show that they know how to pull off performing to Tarantino’s liking, with Russell giving a commanding yet comical performance as John Ruth.

Still, perhaps the best performance of the film comes from Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue. She brings a sense of fun to “The Hateful Eight” that really makes the film what it is, because in reality she’s the main character. She’s violent and deranged, laughing as she gets hurt, and there’s also a sense of detachment in her which is quite frightening considering the fact that she faces death. However, what really makes Domergue a memorable character is the fact that she’s so playful and frankly mad; she seems to love tormenting the other characters, especially John Ruth, and she’s just incredibly entertaining to watch. Of all the characters in “The Hateful Eight” Domergue has the most depth, which is in no small part down to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance.

Nevertheless, I felt that Channing Tatum’s casting was a bit of a distraction, especially given that his performance wasn’t very good. I’ve got nothing against Channing Tatum, but for my money he doesn’t have the acting chops to fit into a Tarantino film, and I believe that he proved that every time he appeared on screen. From the moment that the opening credits rolled I was wondering when he was going to appear, because he’s quite a big name to not have a lead role. This was accentuated by the fact that the movie opened with a long shot of the stagecoach wading through the snow, giving me time to find out who was going to appear in the film – when Channing Tatum hadn’t turned up by the middle of it I was acutely aware that he was going to have a large role to play, which obviously had an effect on my experience of the film. Any sense of immersion or intrigue that might’ve been building prior to that point was completely killed until he appeared, which was a real shame because a lot of hard work had gone into keeping character agendas hidden.

I also felt that while the story wasn’t bad, the way in which the bulk of the movie was contained within Minnie’s Haberdashery took away from the experience as a whole, given that this is a three hour long movie with an interval in the middle (yes, there’s an actual interval). It’s hard to think exactly how this problem could’ve been avoided, because the whole film revolves around the eight characters that are stuck in the haberdashery, but it still took away from the impact of the film. It would’ve been difficult to follow any of the characters closely before they arrived at the haberdashery because their motivations are intentionally opaque and they supposedly come from different places, but I still think that this containment issue is one reason why I didn’t enjoy “The Hateful Eight” as much as some of Tarantino’s other films.

Despite a couple of small issues, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Hateful Eight”. If you aren’t a fan of Tarantino’s unique brand of filmmaking, then at three hours and seven minutes long “The Hateful Eight” might not be for you; I certainly don’t think that it’s Tarantino’s best work, considering films like “Kill Bill” and “Pulp Fiction” grace his filmography, and I don’t think that it’s the right stop for a newcomer to jump onto the bandwagon. However, for a fan like me it’s yet another admirable and entertaining effort from a very talented director, and an early contender for my favourite film of 2016.

8/10

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