Film review: The Hateful Eight

Paul Hayes-Watkins / 11 January 2016

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is a contemporary and unflinching take on the Western.

The setting is Wyoming during a blizzard in the dead of winter, a few years after the end of the American Civil War. The weather is bleak. Unforgiving. The wind whistles and howls as a stagecoach hurtles through the wintry scene.

John Ruth, AKA ‘The Hangman’, (Kurt Russell) is en route to the outback town of Red Rock to deliver his captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the authorities for hanging. It's a point of principle for him that he keeps his prisoners alive so that the authorities can hang them. "I want to hear her neck snap with my own two ears," he says.

Ruth is joined in his private stagecoach by black former union soldier turned bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren, (Samuel L Jackson), first seen sitting in the snow, smoking his pipe with three dead men as company.

The three are soon joined by Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. The skies darken and the weather deteriorates fast as the blizzard catches them. Their only available refuge is ‘Minnie's Haberdashery’, the mountain stopover where ‘the Hateful Eight’ converge.

After an opening that's as big as the great outdoors, the film moves inside by the fire and more or less stays put. It resembles a stage production – where Tarantino favours his colourful characters over the action that will follow.

Once everyone is ensconced in the haberdashery, the film begins to resemble director, Quentin Tarantino's own version of an Agatha Christie mystery. After the initial introduction to the principal characters, no one appears quite what they seem.

Following his first foray into this genre, with Django Unchained, Tarantino has conjured a sense of the Old West where it’s every man for himself, which means the only safe way to interact with a stranger is to assume that he’d kill you without a moment’s thought. 

Related: The top five Tarantino movies

Although the first bullet isn’t fired until well into the film, as the mistrust and tension build, the violence is coiled and ready to strike at any moment. As is typical of the Western genre, everyone is armed, the film works towards the inevitable, bloody conclusion. The haberdashery will become a brutal battleground.

Tarantino himself defends the violence, and told the BBC: "The violence is meant to send shockwaves through the audience, to create sympathy with Daisy, but also I have trapped all my characters in a cabin during a blizzard.

"It's a pressure cooker in terms of storyline and you know the way I go; that any piece of outrageous violence can happen”.

If you’re simply a fan of Westerns and remember the 70mm Roadshows* of yesteryear, be warned, this is a contemporary take on the genre and the explicit violence will not be for you. And a further cautionary note; there is race-related language throughout this film, albeit in context. This isn’t a film for the faint-hearted.

However, if you’re a fan of Tarantino’s work, The Hateful Eight will enthral you for all of its 302 minutes – including a 12-minute interlude - and will not disappoint.

The Hateful Eight released in the UK on 8 January.

* The movie itself was shot on 70mm film, employing the very lenses used to shoot the Ben-Hur chariot race in 1959. (However many cinemas will be showing a shorter non-70mm version of the movie as few venues have the specialised equipment necessary.)

Remember Roadshows?

The unusual 70mm Roadshow experience of The Hateful Eight pays homage to and recreates the grand film exhibition style popularised in the 1950s and ‘60s, which brought audiences to theatres with the promise of a special event.

Taking place in the nation’s largest cities and grandest theatres, Roadshows presented a longer version of the film than would be shown in the film’s subsequent wider release, included a musical overture to start the show, an intermission between acts and a souvenir program. The Hateful Eight is no different, so is only available to be seen in theatres that support the wider-screen format. (Consequently, programmes are in limited supply, first come, first served at 70mm locations only.)

Ultra Panavision 70 refers to the very rare and exceptional format that Quentin Tarantino and his team used to shoot The Hateful Eight. Panavision’s unique anamorphic camera lenses capture images on 70mm film in an incredible aspect ratio of 2.76:1. Almost all films you see today are shot in ratios of either 1.85:1 or 2.39:1. So, to put it simply, Ultra Panavision 70 provides a far wider and more detailed image.

Says Tarantino of this special event release: “The thing about the Roadshows is that it made movies special. It wasn’t just a movie playing at your local theatre. They would do these big musical productions before the normal release of the film. You would get a big colourful programme. It was a presentation. They would play a Broadway show overture version of the soundtrack. If you’re going to shoot your movie and release it in 70mm, it’s really the way to go: twenty-four frames a second flickering through a projector, creating the illusion of movement.” 

This Ultra Panavision 70mm Roadshow presentation of The Hateful Eight is an experience that hasn’t been had in over fifty years.

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