Demonic peddler of violence and profanity or visionary saviour of modern cinema, Quentin Tarantino is nothing if not a divisive figure. Your enjoyment of his latest, The Hateful Eight, will probably be tied to whichever side your personal opinion rests. So if you’re a delicate flower of Jane Austen sensibilities, we suggest you either dig out the smelling salts or look away now.
Being arguably the biggest movie geek this side of a grindhouse double bill, Mr Tarantino does nothing by halves. Except here he does, for the all singing, all dancing ‘roadshow’ version of The Hateful Eight is quite literally a film of two halves, split by a 15 minute ‘Interval’ and preceded by an ‘Intermission’. Which is just as well, seeing it runs to a bum-numbing 182 minutes and a Sloth’s bladder is only so big. An homage to the classic western, he also shot it on 77mm film, presumably because that is obtuse and difficult. Geekiness aside, is it any good?
Set just after the American Civil War, we meet three of our eight during a blizzard in Wyoming. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) is a bounty hunter adrift in the snow, who catches a ride on a stagecoach occupied by fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) who is transporting his captured bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) cross country to claim his reward. En route they pick up several more waifs and strays before sheltering from the storm at a mountain inn which already holds several other dubious characters including Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) and Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) to make our eight. The next few hours are spent sizing each other up as it becomes clear they may all have vested interests in the fate of Daisy Domergue.
The first half is a slow burn. Talky, hypnotic and highly theatrical, our characters bandy the n-word around with typical controversial Tarantino abandon, pushing each other’s buttons over the recent civil war. The second half sees tensions boil over and the inevitable bloodbath ensue. And that, essentially, is it. A chamber piece stretched over 182 minutes. Is it indulgent? Sure. Is it offensive? Doubtless. Is it interesting? Absolutely. Tarantino is famously allowed huge amounts of creative freedom by his producers, which is rare due to movies being subject to commercial pressures so, most of all, it’s fascinating to see what comes out when these constraints are lifted. Would we be calling this indulgent if it were performed on a theatre stage, rather than a cinema? Perhaps not.
UK release 8 January