Name this film. A bunch of men in an isolated room, deeply suspicious of each other. Lots of talking to determine which of them is not who he claims to be. In between, bullets fly. Dead bodies and blood all over the place.

You’re thinking Reservoir Dogs, aren’t you? Actually I’ve just described The Hateful Eight. ‘The eighth film by Quentin Tarantino’, as it’s billed, feels like a return to the very first. It has the same sense of tension and claustrophobia that defined his game-changing debut. But – powered by an operatic score by the great Enrico Morricone, shot in sumptuous 70mm, and clocking in at nearly 3 hours – there’s a deliberate ‘epic’ quality to The Hateful Eight that Reservoir Dogs never had to live up to.

Set in the aftermath of the American Civil War, across the unforgiving landscape of a Wyoming winter, the film’s plot cranks into gear as bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is transporting wanted murderess Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the nearby town of Red Rock. Along the way, he gives a ride to fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson), and the sheriff of the town they’re headed to (Walton Goggins). The group takes shelter at a guesthouse, Minnie’s Haberdashery, as a blizzard sets in. There they encounter other travelers – a hangman (Tim Roth), a cowboy (Michael Madsen), a Mexican stable-hand (Demian Bichir), and a grizzled Confederate General (Bruce Dern).

Early on, it becomes clear to the men that they’re going to have to spend a few nights here, waiting for the weather to turn. Quickly, a plot of deception unravels as the coffee pot is mysteriously poisoned, and nobody knows who they can and can’t trust, especially with a prized prisoner in their midst who has a ten thousand dollar bounty on her head.

Fans will be happy to know that The Hateful Eight doesn’t skimp on such Tarantino staples as gratuitous violence and liberal swearing. I had to turn away a few times, particularly in places where a female character was brutally knocked around. There are also provocative scenes of racially charged exchanges that dial up the tension.

So what’s new, you might ask and the honest answer is not much. Still, the film succeeds on account of its sly, sneaky script, the unanticipated characters who show up and get blown to bits, and because it’s got a terrific ensemble of actors who genuinely appear to be enjoying themselves. Jennifer Jason Leigh deserves special mention for a crackling performance that’s full of surprises. 

The Hateful Eight is never as inventive as some of Tarantino’s previous films. It’s also his slowest. It’s no epic in the end, but it’s still pretty good fun. I’m going with three out of five.

 

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