The Hateful Eight

Year: 2015
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir, Channing Tatum, Zoë Bell

No matter what genre Quentin Tarantino works in he's first and foremost a writer of dialogue, letting the motivations and words of characters drive his stories to a degree few other filmmakers have the capacity (or are given leeway by studios) to do.

So it's saying something that even though there isn't even a hint of action or violence for the first half of this three-hour movie, you're quite gripped by who everyone is and what they're doing there.

In the tradition of a Hitchcock film, the grand set-up behind the story has all taken place – it's up to the audience and at least some of the characters to try and piece it together to catch up and figure out what's really going on (and the 150 minute mark reveal that goes back in time to earlier the same day the film's set over is a big spoiler).

You've also heard about how Tarantino was adamant the film be shot and projected in 70mm in the vein of the Western epics of old, but his creative aesthetic goes much further than that.

There's a ten-minute overture that begins the movie (if you're under 40, that's a still frame or themed artwork accompanied by some of the score – by the legendary Ennio Morricone, in this case). There's an intermission at a pivotal, cliffhanger moment. Intentional artefacts and faults on the film make it look like a 60s cowboy epic, and Tarantino and sound designer Fred Raskin have even included the sound of a whirring projector on the soundtrack.

In using the design of the movie itself (rather than just the dialogue or narrative), this is an homage to another era at the movies like Grindhouse was – only with a better story and more interesting characters.

It's the tail end of the Civil War, and bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is transporting Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to collect his money and let her hang. On the way there he comes across stranded war hero Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) and the incoming Red Rock Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), reluctantly agreeing to give them both a ride.

With a blizzard snapping at its heels, the coach arrives at Minnie's Haberdashery, a saloon and general store on the way to Red Rock, and there's little option but to put the horses in the barn and hunker down to wait the storm out.

Once inside they encounter former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth), a pompous Brit claiming to be the new Red Rock hangman, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), the strong and silent type sitting by himself in a corner and Mexican shopkeeper Bob (Demian Bichir), who claims to have been left in charge while Minnie and her staff have left to visit family.

There's enough familiarity between the players to maintain a barely-contained atmosphere of tension and mistrust, making them the hateful eight of the title. Warren, for example, knows Minnie would never leave her place in the hands of a Mexican, and he also knows what happened to the son Smithers is in the area searching for (describing his fate in the film's squirmiest scene).

Ruth knows Mannix because the name belongs to a notorious family of local war agitators, and Mannix knows about both Smithers' legendary command in battle and the bloodthirsty attacks Warren led during his own service.

It all makes for a shifting sense of who's in control and a very talky, dialogue-driven first half. Everyone gets the stage for a few good scenes that both explains who they are and gives each actor room to really stretch their muscles.

It's actually so stageplay-like for such a stretch you start to wonder when the action is going to start – if Tarantino's known for one thing, it's stories where everyone's an antagonist and very few of them (man or woman, innocent or guilty) are left alive when the dust settles.

As if on cue, the violence and bloodshed erupts forth, the tension and hatred ratcheting up a few more notches every time. Before long, suspicions that something's not right at Minnie's are beyond doubt, everyone trying to stay in control and find out what it is before it costs them their life.

The liberal use of the N word will once again get audiences and critics who don't understand Tarantino's love of the word bristling, but The Hateful Eight is another great example of his powers as a writer and his command over the image – funny, violent, suspenseful and a great antidote if you're going to be all Force-d and Millenium Falcon-ed out for the next few weeks.

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