With his eighth film upon us Quentin Tarantino must not be hearing “no” very much anymore. Three-hour runtime? Go for it. Release the movie on 70mm film, a format that’s been largely abandoned since 1970? Why not? Blood vomit? Uh, sure, dude.
The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s most indulgent film yet, cranking up everything we’ve come to expect from the 52-year-old director. His signature ornate dialogue, which Samuel L. Jackson has been playing with masterfully for decades now, dominates the first 101 minutes before the intermission comes. Just how much you enjoy this depends on your proclivity for Tarantino’s pen, but even the most consistent fans among us may be exhausted by the heavy oration/conversation. Once the (welcomed) intermission ends, the exaggerated violence takes over. Blood explodes from everywhere: throats, heads, chests, the, umm, nether regions. Again, par for the course.
As the name implies, Hateful Eight follows a disparate band of eight characters trapped together inside a haberdashery amidst a harsh Wyoming blizzard. John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is on his way to collecting a $10,000 bounty in Red Rock for the vile Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Before hunkering down at the outpost he picks up Marquis Warren (Jackson), a former Union major and fellow bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a former Confederate soldier and proclaimed sheriff elect of Red Rock. Warren and Ruth met once before, and they trust each other and loathe Mannix just enough to mutually assure each other’s respective bounties. Warren has a few bodies to transport, while Ruth lives up to his nickname by refusing to kill his targets.
At the outpost they’re held up with Bob “The Mexican,” (Demian Bichir) who’s watching over the haberdashery, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Red Rock’s hangman, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a loner cowboy, and Sanford "Sandy" Smithers (Bruce Dern), an old Confederate general. Tensions stick to a simmer, but Ruth and Warren are smart enough to know someone, whoever they may be, will make a play. This set-up comprises the entire first half, with the finger pointing and flying bullets held until after the intermission. If this sounds like a lot of time to establish the tension and mystery, you’re correct, it is. The conversations are as captivating and eloquent as ever but could have been cut back by a half-hour, if we're being honest.
Once the curtain is lifted and the stage is covered in blood, the action isn’t exactly a savior. The reveals satisfy, but the actual violence not so much. Tarantino’s gratuitous blood was shocking and borderline comical in Django Unchained and Kill Bill I and II, but this time around it’s just too familiar.
More repetition comes in Tarantino’s usage of the “n-word,” or his usage through other characters, at least. Like Django, the rampant n-bombs are historically justified by the setting, but still, it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable. Tarantino ends up making some salient points on race through the conversations in The Hateful Eight, but is this middle-age white dude really the messenger we need? At a certain point you can’t help but wonder, “What is it with this dude and race?”
Jackson is as great as ever with Tarantino and continues to masticate on his writing, and Russell makes a solid return to the world of Quentin. But the true star this time around is Jason Leigh, who chills as the crass murderer unafraid of her own death and talks shit like none other. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get enough screen time until the second half. That other half of the divider is also boosted by Channing Tatum’s brief but enthralling role. It’s no wonder he begged/berated Tarantino for a part.
None of these criticisms equate to Tarantino churning out a bad film. Dude is still great at making funny, provocative, grotesque, verbose flicks. There’s just nothing fresh and exciting about Hateful Eight—it’s simply a very Tarantino movie. His worst enemy is himself, and he couldn’t stop himself from making more of the same this time around. With just two more films to go before his self-imposed "retirement," Tarantino needs something new: a muse, a genre, a setting, a topic other than race. Somebody needs to reel Quentin back in a little, because it’s not going to be himself.