Movie review: The Hateful Eight is a really wicked Western

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The Hateful Eight

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell

Anyone familiar with wonderfully perverse director Quentin Tarantino will know that his films are a slow brew with an explosive, and sometimes toxic, ending. It’s all rich, meticulous dialogue and delicious scene-setting until the shit hits the fan.

The Hateful Eight, his eighth feature (by his count), takes that formula to the nth degree. In this Western-style mystery, we are introduced to nine characters holed up in a snowed-in road stop called Minnie’s Haberdashery and, as slowly as the pitch-black coffee they all drink, the tension starts brewing.

Some of the characters include John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter who’s just bagged Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an infamous murderess; Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a toothy Southerner on his way to take up his position as sheriff of a small town; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), an astute Englishman who also happens to be a hangman; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a quietly brooding cowboy; and Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a retired general who led a Southern brigade during the war. Then there’s Samuel L Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, who, by virtue of being black in post-Civil War America, becomes the catalyst that makes the potion explode.

And explode it does, with Tarantino writing another role of a lifetime for Jackson. Throughout, Warren is a righteous gunslinger who has learnt to survive in an America that would rather see him dead. He is streetwise, cut-throat, righteous, at times bitterly funny and his narration climaxes (pun intended) in a story of sexual vengeance so insane that it had the whole cinema laughing incredulously.

By far, the biggest scene-stealer in this Tarantino outing is Leigh. Her wonderfully off-kilter portrayal of a devilish villain is delectable to watch. She’s all snarls, knowing grins and maniacal laughter. She chews and spits tobacco like the boys and gets roughhoused like one of them too.

The scenes of Domergue being punched and elbowed by Ruth are uncomfortable, and are meant to be. They sit nervously between comedy and cruelty, and make us flinch instead of revel in the violence. They’re a condemnation of Ruth rather than a celebration.

Tarantino, who has created some of the most memorable female characters in cinema – Jackie Brown; Uma Thurman’s roles in Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction; the women from Deathproof – does not reward Domergue with a triumphant story arc and it felt like a bit of a letdown. I wanted a fist-in-the-air feminist moment and didn’t get it, but I appreciated that she still exists boldly outside of how women in Westerns are usually portrayed. She’s not a femme fatale, buxom saloon girl, stoic farm wife or damsel in distress.

Despite all this praise, The Hateful Eight is not Tarantino’s finest work. If you want to see the director tackle race, Jackie Brown or Django Unchained have more clout. If you want superior pastiche and action, opt for Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction. And if you want delicious dialogue, Reservoir Dogs and Inglorious Basterds did it for me.

Nevertheless, The Hateful Eight still stands head and shoulders above most other fare on offer in cinemas right now, and it’s a worthy addition to the Tarantino library.

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