As Quentin Tarantino enters into his eighth film with “The Hateful Eight,” I’ve lost count on how many times the word “nigger” is sliced, diced and slapped upside the head of the viewer. In this film, however, the use of the N-word is slung with a venous truth that’s wrapped in historical facts.
The film opens with a tremendous musical overture, a spectacular wintry landscape captured on 70mm film with the long-deserted Ultra Panavision 70 lenses, a feat announced in the credits, and a score by Ennio Morricone.
The strength of the screenplay is evident in act one because a full hour of the story is set inside a tiny stagecoach and then inside a cabin, which sets up an engaging mystery.
Then there is a 12-minute intermission.
Act two is pure Tarantino, which means it’s violent, outrageous and full of riveting storytelling. Remember that you are in the hands of a master manipulator, not unlike a sneaky cat playing with a helpless mouse.
“The Hateful Eight” doesn’t drag because Tarantino has stacked the deck with characters so wild and dangerously exciting that you almost want to slap your own hands for cheering these grimy characters in their violent pursuits. Tarantino is laughing because he’s proving that he can get away with anything. I am not mad at the brilliant man, I am just entering an observation.
The core of the story is wrapped around a series of interlocking agendas, wielded by a pair of bounty hunters who show up at a cabin in the middle of a unforgiving snowstorm to find a suspicious group of fellow stranded travelers.
Everyone’s a suspect and no one is entirely innocent. Then the history lesson of how the brutality of settlers shaped the United States of America begins, including Wyoming’s post-Civil War history and its bloody truth. Ugly America, shame on you.
The cast of characters includes Major Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) pitted against fellow bail agent John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell). On sight they don’t like each other, and observing the tension is the noted killer, and the Hangman’s prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Poor, old, guilty-as-sin Daisy is on her way to nearby Red Rock to face her execution. As the impending storm moves closer, the three are joined by another straggler, Chris “The Sheriff” Mannix (Walton Goggins), an absolute wide-eyed comical dandy, who is claiming to be Red Rock’s new sheriff.
The dialogue pushes the story into the famous Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is essentially an isolated cabin but a valued rest stop. There the movie remains, inside the cozy cabin with the monosyllabic ex-Gen. Sanford “The Confederate” Smithers (Bruce Dern), an old man who won’t leave the comfort of the raging fireplace.
The other questionable men include Oswaldo “The Little Man” Mobray (Tim Roth), who, by way of a business card, claims to be Red Rock’s new hangman; Bob “The Mexican” (Demian Bichir), who enjoys tickling the ivories, while Joe “The Cow Puncher” Gage (Michael Madsen) who , sitting in the corner, scribbles in a notebook.
The sharp hired killers automatically know there is a set up, and over the ensuing two hours, plenty of devious schemes arise before the inevitable arrival of flying bullets and spraying blood comes to a sadistic climax.
The history of this country is filled with paradoxes. It’s build on the backs of African slaves on land cleared by genocide. The West, it seems, is merely a vessel for Tarantino’s erratic conceits about race, violence and justice. For example, a Navajo blanket was used inside the cabin, but no Navajo was in sight.
Leigh is a complicated villain, and although she spends most of the movie in chains, she dominates the room and gives soul to the dialogue.
The gifted storyteller is known for his effective and unusual casting choices, and the grinning Channing Tatum stays on the screen just long enough for us to miss his maniacal and brutal nature.
“The Hateful Eight” is a mystery. “Who poisoned the coffee?” is one device, while the owner of a congratulatory letter, held dear by one character, that may or may not have been written by Abraham Lincoln, adds dark humor into the bloody tale
The film belongs to a few actors, and some would argue it’s more Jackson than Leigh. Tarantino plays favorites with Jackson, giving him lines such as, “Wake up, white boy!” and letting him release his furious vengeance against a white race that has done so many wrong. The grand symbolism is lost on no one with a pulse.
Tarantino is angry, like a downtrodden Black man, and creates bodies of work that force people to dig deep. The N-word is used like a leather glove, slapping the lying mouths of the lying men, and with each N-word the slap grows more primal and grim.
In the last shot of the film, “The Hateful Eight,” you can almost hear Tarantino saying, “Only two more and I am out.” Pay attention, you might learn something.