“The Hateful Eight” is Quentin Tarantino’s latest genre mashup, a violent, profane and funny updating of the Golden Age of TV Westerns.
Horses pulling a stagecoach pound through the snow, hard men threaten, curse each other and slap the tar out of a hard woman, shots are fired and blood is spilled. They all pile into a roadhouse, a saloon, Minnie’s Haberdashery, and ride out blizzard — “Ten Little Indians” style. And they’re killed off. One by one. Sometimes two by two.
Stretched to three hours, including a pointless (old fashioned) overture and intermission, a little afterthought narration, does it live up to the “Cinema Event” Tarantino has hyped it as? Hell no. It’s just a minimalist Spaghetti Western suffering from auteur bloat — sometimes entertaining, with not even remotely enough story or action to support its insufferable length and “gravitas.”
It’s like an R-rated riff on “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” or more exactly, an episode of the late 1960 TV series “The Rebel,” whose episode “Fair Game” apparently provided the narrative framework for the film.
Kurt Russell heads this cast of archetypes. He’s the bounty hunter, John Ruth, “The Hangman,” hell-bent on delivering this “dangerous” woman, Daisy Domergue, (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in the best role she’s had in decades) to justice. Just how dangerous is she?
“She ain’t no John Wilkes Booth.”
Samuel L. Jackson is the dapper, overdressed and well-armed Army vet, Major Marquis Warren, who stops their private hire stagecoach. He can ride with them, providing he drops his guns, slowly, “molasses like.”
A racist badman turned lawman (Walton Goggins) also hitches a lift. And then they arrive at Minnie’s to wait out the storm. That’s where “The Cow Puncher” (Michael Madsen, looking nothing like a cowboy, playing with his hair the whole time), the English Fop (Tim Roth, perfect) and The Confederate Officer (Bruce Dern) are already ensconced, with only the Mexican, Bob (Demian Bichir) to look after them.
Nowhere in sight? Minnie.
The wary new arrivals wonder about this set-up, John Ruth especially. And in this drafty, roomy “haberdashery,” schemes and intrigues will turn up, bullets will fly, anecdotes about the late war (men from both sides are here) and “The Cause,” will be related.
And pretty much one and all find some excuse to drop assorted N-bombs on Jackson’s Major. Dapper or not, he’s still barely half a step up the social ladder from the hateful Daisy Domergue, and not just in Tarantinoland.
The pleasures are in those anecdotes — about the late President Lincoln, atrocities committed during the war, desperadoes doing desperate deeds — Tarantino cooks up. Characters speak in a more modern vernacular than you’d like, a common Tarantino failing.
The drafty, more expansive than claustrophobic saloon makes an interesting crucible. The mystery is less mysterious than you’d hope, and some of the plot twists, introduced in “Chapters” that break the three act piece into smaller fragments, are clumsy. But the cast — several of whom are Tarantino veterans — is game, with only Madsen standing out as a weak choice. Russell bites off lines with gusto, Jackson is…well, Jackson. And Leigh delivers menace and true hatefulness in every brown-toothed close-up.
After an opening act (the stagecoach ride) that shows promise, the picture settles into a watchable bloat that should have you planning your bathroom breaks with care. The novelty of making a nicely-detailed Western in this day and age loses its bite if you’ve seen Russell’s low-budget indie thriller, “Bone Tomahawk,” or Adam Sandler’s spoof of this film, “The Ridiculous 6.” Hollywood can still manage a convincing Horse Opera on a budget.
But there simply isn’t enough here to justify this long a wallow in Tarantino-land. An overture? For a movie with very little music actually in it? Talk about overkill. “Kill Bill,” this ain’t.
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
Cast: Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Channing Tatum
Credits: Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. A Weinstein Co. release.
Running time: 2:48