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I went into the Hateful Eight knowing two things about this Civil War Western. It didn’t have the over the top humor of Pulp Fiction and had all - if not - more of the violence. A blood bath minus the laughs, I was skeptical. But since I already had taken it out of the library, I braced myself and decided to have faith in the master.
Our introduction spans the snows of Wyoming and is interrupted by a stagecoach being pulled through the panorama. The abruptness comes full stop as Samuel L. Jackson sits perched atop three frozen bodies and impedes the flight of the solitary carriage with a massive blizzard about to cascade down.
Let the games begin.
Looking for a ride, Major Marquis Warren is a bounty hunter who obviously takes no prisoners and his escape from Wellenbeck Prison Camp during the Civil War said as much. Burning the POW camp to the ground, 47 confederate troops also went up in flames, and he’s unapologetic. “You fought the war to keep Niggers in chains. I fought the war to kill White Southern Crackers. And that means kill ‘em any way I can. Shoot ‘em, burn ‘em, drown ‘em, drop a big ole rock on their head. Whatever it takes to put White Southern Crackers in the ground. That’s what I joined the war to do, and that’s what I did,” the major doesn’t hold back.
The hate running deep, his blood lust doesn’t discriminate when he’s called on the fact that 37 of his fellow prisoners also died in the inferno. “That’s the thing about war, people die,” he does Tarantino proud and sets a humorous tone that is more subtle than typically sidesplitting.
Nonetheless, the occupant inside relents against his better judgement and takes Major Warren aboard. Kurt Russel as John Ruth is also up to the Westerns task, and just because his wanted dead or alive bounty is being transported with a pulse, doesn’t mean he is any less ruthless
Eager to view Daisy Domergue’s appointment with the noose, he doesn’t let the fairness of his prisoner’s sex prevent him from giving an even shake when she mouths off. “How you like the sound of them bells? Real pretty, ain’t they,” John Ruth pistol whips her to the floor, and it’s Jennifer Jason Leigh that Tarantino dusts off this time from an earlier age of 80s movies.
She doesn’t endear herself to Major Warren upon introductions either. “Howdy Nigger,” she casually dismisses him and her dire circumstance.
It also lets us know that Tarantino’s favorite racial epitaph will not get a rest and gives us plenty to ride along with despite the contained space and methodical back and forth. The pace remains the same as the teamster comes across another stranded traveler who adds Civil War battle lines to the drama.
There’s a new Sheriff in Town
As dispensed above in Major Warren’s rationale, the hostilities are still well contained in the discourse and Southern war vet Chris Mannix knows it’s better to let the past lie as the conversation overheats. “You got me talking politics. I’m just happy to be alive. I think I’ll just look out the window at all the pretty scenery and think about how lucky I am,” says Mannix as he heads to Red Rock to assume the role of Sheriff.
Why not, they also have more commonality than contrast. Ruthlessness serving as the connecting thread.
Soon enough, the quartet shares in mystery as they seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery. Minnie and Sweet Dave are uncharacteristically absent, but a little Tim Roth and Michael Madsen returns too much reminiscence to fully delve into the omission.
But as a conspiracy begins to unravel, the unexpected spokes added by all the serendipity play havoc and pleasingly twist the plot.
Still, this day in the life of a bunch of bad guys isn’t quite on par with Pulp Fiction. Not going for the big laughs, the Hateful Eight hopes to tie the travails together with a message-inspired bow.
It’s kind of weak as westerns go. However the 165 minute digression still merits the long journey, and Tarantino's filmmaking remains on the path nonetheless.