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The Hateful Eight: The Revival of Spaghetti Western

In The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino's trademark combination of dialogue, narrative, and character writing rewards his fans with a fascinating experience.

Quentin Tarantino has always been one of the most controversial, yet charismatic auteurs in Hollywood, as he constantly proves to be an edgy writer/director who dares to tackle aspects of modern life so brutal, blatantly dark and overtly sensitive that the public might be left feeling offended or uncomfortable. Also, having spent most of his youth at video stores, he has an artistic habit to pay homage to the venerable days of cinema; his works reflected so much of the old values (inspirational scenes, songs, and score pieces) to a point that the public sometimes accuse him of being a copycat.

That being said, his fans respect and admire him because boldly, he walks the line. Rising from early achievements like the unique indie heist flick Reservoir Dogs (his debut) and my personal favorite of his work, Pulp Fiction, to recent success like The Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, together with involvement in countless screenplays and side-trips like the co-op mission with Robert Rodriguez in Grindhouse (Tarantino’s segment Death Proof), the man secured himself a spot in the line of A-list directors.

The Hateful Eight arrived in late 2015 (actually right on time with J.J. Abrams’ more-than-long-waited The Force Awakens at the box office) as the eighth directorial piece from Tarantino. He had announced the plan back in 2013 but in January 2014, the script leaked and production was canceled. Fortunately, due to a successful script reading, the director changed his mind and decided to come up with a new script while confronting some unavoidable controversies related to boycott and socially heated issues portrayed in his works.

The cast at a promotional event

As been acknowledged from the trailer, Eight tells a claustrophobic, tension-filled Postbellum Western story about 8 almost-strangers that get stocked up into a contained environment. Each one of them hides beneath the surface their own ulterior motive, and of course, heated debates ensue, followed by acts of ultraviolence.

Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) – The Bounty Hunter carries his three bounties to Red Rock, Wyoming and has to hitch a ride because of the snowy weather. He meets a stage coach ridden by O.B. Jackson (James Parks) and the passengers are John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), another bounty hunter with the trademark act of escorting his bounties to hang alive, and Ruth’s captured fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). After the two bounty hunters’ bonding session over their previous crossing, a Lost-Cause militiaman named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) appears and claims to be Red Rock’s new Sheriff, so he is allowed to embark on the journey.

Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins

Due to the blizzard, they are forced to stay at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a familiar stagecoach lodge of Warren’s. Bob (Demián Bichir), a Mexican temporarily in charge of the place welcomes them inside, stating that Minnie and her husband have left for a stay at her mother’s. The others are Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) – an English (legit) hangman, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) – a lonely cowboy, and lastly, Sandford ‘Sandy’ Smithers (Bruce Dern) who identifies himself as a former Confederate general, but none of them seems to be exactly of their sayings. And there we have, the titular eight. Hateful, no doubt.

Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Roth

This setup gives off the vibe of Reservoir Dogs – the earliest work of Tarantino himself, consisting of a mishmash of characters inside a small area with a lot of implicitly and steadily building conflicts. Because of the 1870s context, not long after the end of the American Civil War, themes regarding Union/Confederate rivalry, racism, sexism and Native American genocide are severely dissected through dialogues between these mysterious figures, especially in the first half, building up a desirable hateful and envious atmosphere from the basis of their collective war-torn mentality.

Speaking of dialogues, Quentin Tarantino, again, is one true master in this aspect of storytelling, effectively establishing relations between the eight and piling up their bad blood one by one through witty banters, offensive remarks, and contrived monologues to a level that is ready for blood spills at any moment. This time Eight’s progress is pretty much the same tone, if not even more coherent and character-driven, in association with Warren’s assertive and belligerent nature in the three most vital conversations: one between him and General Smithers about what he did to the old man’s only son, one when he finally loses it and takes control of the whole situation, and one in its on-the-edge final act. In between is a timely introspection, signifying Tarantino’s trademark non-linear narration and serves the purpose of clearing up all the dust that has been tricking its audience into this deadly game.

Bruce Dern as an old General of the Southern Army

Also, the conclusion to this sanguinary firefight plays itself out almost as satisfactory as the buildup. Please be noted that there was a change. Whereas the original leaked script was bound to go for the usual bloodshed (resulting in all of the characters turning into cold corpses) that Tarantino’s followers have grown to love, Eight‘s official ending turns out to be even better. Though the last act transpires not without quite a few minor flaws in execution, the subtle message about racial harmony in this historical context still firmly stands on its own, laying a foundation of hope and mutual trust for the future to come.

Apart from the supporting cast who appear later, 8 titular characters were portrayed as well as the roles can get. Of course, we have that cynical, sarcastic charisma of Tarantino-veteran Samuel L. Jackson and the dominant, overwhelming arrogance from Kurt Russell, but all the rest are also truly impressive, especially Tim Roth as the quick-witted Mobray and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the insidious Domergue. Even James Parks in his role of the least important lodger still offers his enthusiasm in that one scene when he has to go outside in freezing weather and comes back shivering, spilling grizzles. That being said, they owe this favor to Tarantino’s habitual sharp writing, which once again succeeds in constructing memorable personalities and tying them in a chain-link of enthralling conflicts.

Quentin Tarantino on set with his DP, Robert Richardson

Eight opens with an overture on the soundtrack scored by veteran composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). With Eight as the first movie shot on Ultra Panavision 70 since Khartoum (1966), Tarantino and his cinematographer – Robert Richardson captured quite well the expansion of Wyoming’s epic mountainous scenery and freezing gales in a time of harsh, cold winter. Yet, the movie somehow loses its sparks when the settings shift to Minnie’s Haberdashery because from then on, there are mostly close-ups and character-focused shots.

The Hateful Eight marked the next milestone of cinematic achievement from Tarantino. His clever combination of great dialogue, irresistible narrative, and solid character writing is brilliantly fused with the collective spectacle from a charming cast. The beloved auteur once again rewards his loyal fans with a fascinating experience that provides enough tension and mysteries for them to not leave their seats.