In Quentin Tarantino’s latest ensemble piece, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and his regular collaborator, Samuel L. Jackson, find themselves holed up in a room sheltering from a blizzard. The fact that one is a bounty hunter taking another across the frontier to a lucrative death is just one of the driving forces which propels the plot through trickery and falsehoods towards an inevitably bloody denouement.
Violent? Sure, but the hyperbolic gore is Tarantino’s stock-in-trade and doesn’t warrant discussion – the squeamish have long-known to avoid his films, and the fans know they will get what they paid for. The thing that may prove harder to swallow for some is the 3-hour running time and the initially talky exposition which, while throwing up some interestingly contemporary ideas about the meting out of justice and America’s fear of black people, at times feels a little indulgent and rambling.
However, as soon as we’re into that house, it’s a mesmerising game of Agatha Christie meets Reservoir Dogs, with Jackson playing the Hercule Poirot among a hugely entertaining cast which includes Dogs’ Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, and a stand-out performance by The Shield’s Walton Goggins. Leigh, the only woman of significance in the story, has been Oscar-nominated for her crazy-eyed routine, and it is indeed a delight to watch the 53-year old veteran chewing out lines and relishing her role.
As usual, it’s Tarantino’s film-geekery which provides the cinematic flourishes that deliver the film’s best elements. Eschewing the 21st century’s migration to digital, he shot this picture on good old-fashioned 70mm film, allowing for magnificent widescreen landscapes and a texture that contributes to beautiful moments where Ennio Morricone’s original score accompanies a horse-drawn carriage across snowy ground (Tarantino has used the 87-year old Italian’s previous compositions in five of his films, but this is his first to commission a newly scored soundtrack, and it’s magnificent). A self-confessed thief from “every movie ever made”, Tarantino shoots several scenes through darkened doorways evoking The Searchers, and gives his leading lady a Carrie moment.
The Hateful Eight doesn’t quite reach the heights of Once Upon A Time in the West but it brings the Spaghetti Western genre alive for a new wave of film aficionados – if they can just handle three hours away from their phones, they may be richly rewarded.