Going into the latest film from Quentin Tarantino, there was basically no chance I wasn't going to like it. Out of his self-proclaimed eight features (Kill Bill's Vol. 1 and 2 have merged in this count) there isn't one I would give a negative review. 2007's Death Proof comes the closest to being a bad movie, with its uneven two-part structure and only occasionally correct guesses at what women are like, but even then, it's still pretty good.
My anticipation for The Hateful Eight was bolstered by Tarantino's own enthusiasm for the work. He shot the project on the much hyped "Ultrapanavasion 70mm film," which makes the shot nearly twice as wide as standard and eschews the otherwise unavoidable trend of trading film for digital. Tarantino calls The Hateful Eight his best technical filmmaking to date and seems pretty pleased with the story, and I'm glad, because what's the point of a modest artist? Having seen it twice now, I'm putting it right around the 50th percentile range among the rest of his work, and that's still good enough to make it one of the best films of 2015.
The Hateful Eight begins on an endless snowy landscape in Wyoming, just a few years after the end of the Civil War. We meet a stagecoach trying to outrun an encroaching blizzard on its way to a town called Redrock. Inside are John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his bounty, the infamous criminal outlaw, Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh with every bit of grit and charm you've been promised. Ruth and Domergue are handcuffed together for the duration. He's mostly responsible for all the blood and bruises on her face, but she had it coming, and there's something secretly adorable and then terrible about their chemistry. Later they will intersect with an unknown man named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) and fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren. Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis falls just short of too over-the-top with this one. It's okay for now, but I fear he's teetering dangerously close to that Al Pacino hoo-ha-ing thing in his later years. The stagecoach will never outrun the blizzard, and so the three of them (plus driver) stop at Minnie's Haberdashery, where the remaining hateful men are waiting.
It's a simple enough setup from there: Take a confederate general (Bruce Dern), the new hangman of Redrock (Tim Roth), a mysterious cowboy (Michael Madsen), a Mexican named Bob (Demián Bichir), two bounty hunters, the supposed new sheriff of Redrock and a convicted killer, give them a bunch of weapons and competing agendas, lock them in a single-room outpost during a blizzard and watch the murder mystery unfold.
Negative reviews of The Hateful Eight hurt my feelings when they complain about long stretches of dialogue or gratuitous violence, as if that isn't precisely what we've come to see. I admit the writing's less focused compared with Tarantino's best work, but what's happening on screen is so thrilling in the moment that you don't realize until later that the parts don't point to any profound feeling.
If you like Tarantino's movies, then The Hateful Eight will undoubtedly satisfy. This is a beautifully shot film populated by insane characters and complemented by a terrifying, chill-inducing score. I invite you to savor the experience, because think about it: Only once will you ever get to see The Hateful Eight for the first time.
The Hateful Eight continues at the Carmike 12.