Written By Jacob Chimilar (@sweetlows)
Another Christmas, another Quentin Tarantino period piece western. This one finds John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) bringing Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang in Red Rock so he can collect the bounty on her head. True to his name The Hangman believes that hangmen deserve work just as much as the next guy so he feels a sense of pride delivering his bounties alive to those men to keep them gainfully employed. On his way to Red Rock in a terrible snow storm, his coach is stopped by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) out in the storm without his horse and three dead men he is also taking to Red Rock for their bounties. After much tap dancing The Hangman agrees to let him aboard along with another further down the path claiming to be the new sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Goggins). The three of them along with Daisy and the driver O.B. make their way to a cabin in the mountains named "Minnie's Haberdashery" they are greeted by a Mexican man (Demian Bichir) who escorts the horses into the stable and sends them in. They get in by busting down the door and re-nailing it shut amidst yelling from those already inside to "shut the damn door!" Thus begins “The Snowed in Cabin Caper”.
I was lucky enough to go see this film in its 70mm Roadshow format in the old Park theatre in downtown Vancouver, a 90 minute transit trip away. Boy was it worth the trip. The is the first feature length movie shot on 65mm Ultra Panavision film in 50 years, with cameras and lenses that had not been used in almost as long. The theatre was one of those old school theatres that had rows of seats on a slight incline and a smaller screen, not ideal to for blowing up the information dense epicness of 70mm but it was the perfect setting for such an old school movie. IMAX is busy playing Star Wars anyway. The 70mm was gorgeous and perfectly projected, something I feared given how long it has been since film had been done, especially 70mm, in a normal theatre. Just for a comparison I went home and watched the trailer on both my monitor and then my samsung tablet, which like the phones has an OLED screen and it paled in comparison to the film projection and at the time I thought the trailers looked amazing.I can't wait to see a 4K (8k IMAX laser re-release would be cool) version of this someday with the wider gamut and higher dynamic range to enjoy at home because there are some really breathtaking scenes that are so much more striking on film.
In addition to it being on 70mm this Roadshow version has a 3-5 minute Overture, 15 minute intermission, as well as a couple extra minutes not seen in the regular release. I'm guessing those minutes come after the intermission because it specifically winks at the 15 minutes that had elapsed and gets us back up to speed on the goings on. This film is definitely designed with that 15 minute break in mind. It plays it slow and steady and builds up to things that come to a head but it does so knowingly that there will be a break before it all comes to an end. Without it, I have a feeling people would say this movie is too long. Generally something people say about Quentin Tarantino. He is a man of excess and clearly has an editor that isn't quite as ruthless as they need to be. I most definitely felt that way watching Django Unchained back in 2012. That was a similar slow burn of a movie that had me begging for it to end. Thankfully this is not the case with The Hateful Eight.
Unlike Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is set almost entirely in a cabin, there are no real long treks, no stopping and starting again as they go from place to place establishing new areas, in TV terms it's essentially “The Bottle Episode: The Movie”. Something I feel plays right into the hands of Quentin's strengths. After all, what do people remember most about his movies? His intimate and intense sit down dialogue scenes. The dinner in Pulp Fiction, The opening of Inglorious Basterds, and now, almost the entirety of The Hateful Eight.
(Minor plot spoilers ahead) this movie plays out like an old school whodunit, set not too long after the civil war. I've seen a few reviewers relate it to the 1985 film Clue, and in some respects that's true. The parallel can be seen most clearly towards the end with Samuel L Jackson doing his best detective work to figure out exactly who everyone is and how they all ended up in the same cabin during the blizzard and what their motivations are. It's wonderful to watch and it's clear everyone was enjoying being a small piece of the larger puzzle. (End minor spoiler)
A large credit is due to Tarantino for creating these characters that all feel so real in their own weird way. All of them have this history that no one really knows or if it is even the truth. Tim Roth nails it as a jolly Englishman who just so happens to also be a hangman. Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Lee spend a good chunk of the film together and both of them, Jennifer especially, give terrific performances. However it's Samuel L Jackson who really brings his A game as a Major who fought in the civil war for the North and has no problem expressing that to some of the less tolerant folk in the cabin. And despite the civil war being over, everyone in that cabin is anything but.
The story while simple is utterly engrossing with typically excellent and often hilarious dialogue from Tarantino. That fused with his assured directing, beautiful cinematography by Robert Richardson and a subtle yet engaging score by Ennio Morricone round out this really terrific film. That in and of itself is an important note. This feels like a film, it has an old school, they don't make them like this any more feel about it. It has a craft and heft that newer movies lack while avoiding looking like a caricature of "film in the 50's", they used classic equipment with modern techniques to really push the quality into another dimension we just don't see anywhere else and that's something to admire. It's not the instant classic that Inglorious Basterds was for me, it doesn't have the break out performance by Christoph Waltz, or really a truly menacing character instead we get a whole bunch of no good, dirty rotten scoundrels in a cabin with no one to trust. Now that is a great premise.
The Hateful Eight is a whole lot of fun and if you love Tarantino you'll find him near the top of his powers in this movie. For those who are more like me and find him to be excessive and in his more recent films especially, slow than not this may be one to skip in theatres, not because of its quality, but it's deliberate pacing. without that extra 10 minutes to stretch your legs and take a breather it may prove too much. It is certainly a better story than Django Unchained and doesn't feel anywhere near as dragged out. Who knows, maybe it will stand up to sitting through the full run time. Either way, it's clear that Quentin Tarantino has still got the touch when it comes to his brand of storytelling and turning it into a big 70mm Roadshow Extravaganza is certainly doing it in style.
Bonus: Here is the featurette explaining the filming process and the "Roadshow" style release