The Hateful Eight stars an ensemble cast. Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds (he narrated), Kill Bill Vol.2, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction) perhaps gets top billing as Major Warren a bounty hunter caught in bad winter weather with three dead bounties to take to Red Rock, Wyoming, and in need of a lift from Kurt Russell (Deathproof) playing John Ruth another bounty hunter with a ‘live one’ handcuffed to him in the form of dangerous Daisy Domergue played by Jennifer Jason Leigh a Tarantino newbie (although I could’ve sworn she was in Pulp Fiction).
Walton Goggins (Django Unchained) then appears as Mannix the new sheriff of Red Rock (or so he says) also needing a lift on Ruth’s coach. Warren is understandably cautious about this seeming coincidence but eventually lets Mannix join them on their journey at the edge of an oncoming blizzard that means their journey will have to pause at a coach house called Minnie’s Haberdashery.
Demián Bichir another Tarantino newbie plays Bob the Mexican who says he has been left to look after Minnie’s Haberdashery while Minnie is away, Tim Roth (Four Rooms, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs) as Oswaldo Mobray is also at Minnie’s Haberdashery along with Joe Gage played by Michael Madsen (Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs) , and General Smithers played by old-timer and hero of the classic sci-fi film Silent Running Bruce Dern.
Once everyone is ensconced within the coach house waiting out the fierce blizzard that rages outside, the film plays out like a twisted stage play. It is rather like a whodunit in places with the usual twists and nonlinear timeline we’ve come to expect from Tarantino. There’s also a fair measure of violence (again standard), some social commentary (although some people have maybe read too much into this aspect of the film), a little humour (mostly from Bob) and some gosh-darned great cinema.
The backdrop to a lot of the tension among the characters, apart from the obvious lack of trust over the bounty money for Daisy, is the recent American Civil War and the roles Warren, Mannix and Smithers played and the racial underpinnings of the war. Suffice to say, and as you’d expect, it all kicks off – starting with someone poisoning the coffee pot and escalating to the point where by the end of the film only two of the eight are alive and will be dead by the time to storm ends.
The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is great and counterbalanced with some more contemporary sounding stuff from the likes of the White Stripes, but it’s not as much an audio American quilt as Tarantino’s previous movies. Tarantino appears to have wanted to do a proper cinematic Western with his choice of music, the widescreen format and choice of shots.
I’m not going to go on about the story because what I have already mentioned is spoiler laden enough already. Some moments that caught my eye purely in terms of great filmmaking were the long opening shot of the landscapes and the oncoming coach, the horses powering through the snow (I’m sure purposely reminiscent of the chariot races in Ben Hur) and a pair of snowshoes hung on a wall making angel wings for someone who gets strung up inside Minnie’s Haberdashery.
I was also really pleased to see the wonderful Zoë Bell (Deathproof) do a quick turn as Six-Horse Judy, to hear Tim Roth’s posh English degenerate into London gangsta and to be tickled by the story of the letter from Abraham Lincoln. The Hateful Eight is a long film but for me it never seemed to be self-indulgent or boring. The ‘parlour room’ setup harks all the way back to Reservoir Dogs but for me The Hateful Eight was much more satisfying in its delivery and outcome.