Discordant strings pierce the silence. Snowy peaks fill the void. Over the wood-carved shoulder of a crucified Jesus, a horse-drawn stagecoach thunders into view. Storm clouds gather. Bird flocks scatter. Gnarled branches shed their leaves and mourn the passing of summer and the fallout of the American Civil War. A black bounty hunter with three pulseless rednecks plants his leather boots knee-deep into the snowy pathway of the fast-approaching carriage. “Howdy nigger!” hollers a ruddy-faced felon before a voice from within rudely interrupts: “Don’t you know darkies don’t like being called niggers no more? They find it offensive.”
A blistering opening by the provocative but brilliant filmmaker Quentin Tarantino who along with his three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson, BAFTA-nominated editor Fred Raskin and multi-award-winning composer Ennio Morricone – for whom this is his first complete Western score in almost forty years – have crafted a wonderful work of beauty. The Hateful Eight is laced with devilish humour, colourful characters and moments of great tension which with the exception of an abrupt intermission and needless narration voiced by Tarantino himself holds the audience in the palm of their hands for nigh on three hours.
Samuel L. Jackson is Major Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren (Samuel L. Jackson doing what Samuel L. Jackson does best: growl and glare, grin and goad). The voice from within, a fellow bounty hunter of Caucasian persuasion John “The Hangman” Ruth (a wonderfully handlebar-moustachioed Kurt Russell). And the ruddy-faced felon chained to his bear-skin sleeve is Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue, a broken-toothed wench with a black eye and foul tongue whose redneck he’s escorting to the Red Rock executioner for the not to be sniffed at fee of $10,000 which is a couple of grand more than The Bounty Hunter’s catch of three pulseless rednecks.
After sharing the contents of a handwritten letter from his trusted pen pal the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln, The Bounty Hunter persuades the impressed Hangman to transport both him and his trio of stiffs to Red Rock too. End of Part One. During the second of six chapters, they pick up Chris “The Sheriff” Mannix (Walton Goggins) who as luck would have it is en route to the same small town where he will be sworn into office. A heated debate ensues about The Bounty Hunter’s elaborate escape from a Confederate prison and then to Red Rock they thunder.
Some conservative critics and irate punters (many of whom have probably not even seen the film) have criticised The Hateful Eight for the same reasons that Tarantino’s previous masterpiece Django Unchained fell foul of the PC police: for the prolific use of the N-word. But in that regard I am nonplussed. For three reasons. Firstly, Tarantino is reflecting not promoting the crude language and overt racism which was commonplace during the time of the American Civil War. Secondly, everyone gets a roasting including blacks, redskins, gringos and wenches (though, for once, my fellow faggots are not on the receiving end, so to speak). And, thirdly, despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964 right through to the crowning glory of Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States, racist views such as those espoused in the film are still sadly prevalent in many southern farmlands and inner city ghettoes.
But, for me, the real message behind Tarantino’s brilliant and blistering, entertaining and engaging, wickedly funny and slightly flawed masterpiece (slightly flawed because of the sudden intermission, needless narration and stock characters such as The Mexican who lacks depth and teeters on the brink of parody) is encapsulated in one of the final lines of the movie: “We still have a long way to go, but hand in hand I know we’ll get there.” With a running time of nigh on three hours and with most scenes confined to a ramshackle stagecoach and a claustrophobic cabin, The Hateful Eight might prove a test too far for those of a soundbite disposition; but as the short-shy sheriff loudly proclaims, “I’ll be double dog damned” if it’s not a grateful wait!
by Peter Callaghan
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh,
Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen,
Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum , Dana Gourrier
Release: 8 Jan 2016 Rating: 18 Running Time: 168 mins