Quentin Tarantino is in a rut.
After Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012), the filmmaker has again retreated to the past, where the n-word can roam free. As opposed to his two previous films, though, it feels like Tarantino is spinning his wheels, waiting for a stray theme to capture his attention. It’s an extended setup without a payoff, a sequence of scenes that never build to anything of consequence.
Tarantino has long demonstrated a fabulous ear for dialogue that is consistently sharp and funny, starting with a snappy diner scene in Reservoir Dogs. Two actors from that sequence, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, return in The Hateful Eight, along with fellow Tarantino veterans Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell, as well as Tarantino newcomers Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir, Walton Goggins, and Bruce Dern. They all prove quite capable of delivering the occasional memorable line conjured up by Tarantino.
Too often, however, the actors are unable to bring life to scenes that are leaden and dull. Tarantino has specialized in weaving cultural commentary into his profanity-laden dialogue, but here he seems to expel his entire knowledge of iconic Western figures in a single exchange between two of the characters, leaving him with nothing but time to fill.
The so-called “roadshow version” of the movie is divided into two parts running a total of 182 minutes, including a 12-minute intermission. The first part is the more desolately tiresome of the two, composed of material that is meant to establish the setting and characters. Traveling by stagecoach through post-Civil War Wyoming in the dead of winter, bounty hunter John Ruth (Russell) intends to bring Daisy Domergue (Leigh) to town, where she will be hanged for her crimes.
As a blizzard threatens, the stagecoach takes on two more passengers: Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Goggins), who will become Sheriff in the town as soon as he arrives. They talk and talk and talk, and then talk some more. Eventually, weather conditions become too intense and they stop at a roadside inn to take shelter from the storm. They meet other stranded visitors: Oswaldo Mobrary (Roth), a self-described hangman; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a non-talkative sort; and General Sandy Smithers (Dern), in a Confederate Army outfit, for some reason. There’s also Bob (Demian Bichir), who says he’s caring for the inn while the owners are away temporarily.
They talk and talk and talk, and then they talk some more, and then finally the intermission arrives. After the break, the pace picks up notably, and there’s more variety to individual scenes, which pushes the film onward to its conclusion.
Longtime Tarantino collaborator Robert Richardson is masterful in his lighting, making The Hateful Eight a true delight for cinematography buffs, and the legendary Ennio Morricone provides a strong, percolating musical score, which is vital for a movie of this sort. Fred Raskin does an acceptable job as film editor, though it’s difficult to shake the feeling that Tarantino’s late collaborator Sally Menke might have made a crucial difference with the director’s two latest films.
The Hateful Eight clop clop clops. It never gallops, which is what it badly needed to do in order to make up for the shortcomings in the script. A surfeit of n-words and buckets of blood don’t compensate, either, for a revisionist Western that is mired in mud.
The film is scheduled to open on Friday, December 25 for a limited engagement in 70mm. It will open wide throughout the area on Friday, January 1.