With a variety of tensions already simmering in the stagecoach, a blizzard forces the party to seek shelter at a remote outpost called Minnie's Haberdashery, where Minnie herself is mysteriously absent and the quartet are greeted by four apparent strangers: supposed friend of Minnie's Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), ageing Southern General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), overly chatty Englishman Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth) and hulking, man-of-few-words cowboy Joe Cage (Michael Madsen). As the snowstorm rages outside, the strangers settle in for the night, but is everything really as it seems? And why is there a jellybean on the floor?
You’re never quite sure just who you want to survive once the killing starts
Given the heavy influence of John Ford (whose Stagecoach is heavily referenced in the opening chapters), it's entirely fitting that Tarantino has peopled his note-perfect cast with what might be called his stock company – certainly, the majority of actors here have all worked with the writer-director before and it's a particular treat to see former Reservoir Dogs Roth and Madsen reunited with Tarantino after more than two decades.
To that end, the performances are enormous fun. Russell is clearly enjoying himself as a heavily whiskered John Wayne type, while Jackson gets perhaps his best role since Pulp Fiction's Ezekiel-quoting Jules as the seemingly in-control Major who knows exactly which buttons to press. Similarly, Leigh works wonders with the bare minimum of dialogue, keenly alert to the fact that her possible freedom depends on these men turning on each other, while Roth evokes a sort of shimmer of untrustworthiness, clouded in what seems like friendly bonhomie.
However, the real revelation is Walton Goggins, who takes what initially appears to be a variation on his stock-in-trade supporting redneck performance and gradually transforms Mannix into a fully-fledged character, inching ever closer to centre stage.
With such an intense, mostly single stage-set piece (you can easily imagine the film working as a play), it's perhaps surprising that Tarantino insisted on shooting the film on 70mm (specifically on Ultra Panavision 70, format fans), especially since the epic landscape exterior shots traditionally associated with the format are few and far between. That said, the sharpness of the image does allow for some innovative blocking of the frame, where it's important to be able to see every person and object in the room – one shot in particular highlights this to impressive effect.
Tarantino’s direction is masterful throughout
Indeed, Tarantino's direction is masterful throughout, expertly controlling tension, before unleashing a barrage of bloody violence, with numerous shocks and twists along the way. To that end, he employs all the structural tricks we've come to expect from Tarantino movies, from shifting points of view to inserted flashbacks and smartly executed rewinds. Also, those dreading his time-honoured cameo appearance (Django Unchained was a particularly awful example) can relax, as he thankfully restricts himself to voiceover narration this time round.
Incidentally, the title isn't kidding, as even the nominal hero keeps punching his female prisoner in the face. This makes for a complex watch, as you're never quite sure just who you want to survive once the killing starts, and the violence is distinctly uncomfortable and deliberately unsettling, with a provocative final scene that leaves an intriguingly bitter taste.
In short, this is Tarantino at the top of his game, his trademarked delicious dialogue creating unbearable tension before the violence explodes. As such, The Hateful Eight is a cinematic treat from start to finish. Highly recommended.
The Hateful Eight is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th January.
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