The Hateful Eight Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Quentin Tarantino is a purist. The director’s films have always been hodgepodges of influences from the deepest corners of film history, but his reverence for cinema’s legacy goes beyond his directorial style: With 2007’s Grindhouse, he presented his movie Death Proof as a double feature with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, complete with fake trailers in the middle; and since 2007 he’s owned the New Beverly Cinema in LA, insisting that every movie shown at the venerable repertory house be projected on film. For Tarantino, the method of presentation is nearly as important as what’s being presented, and for his epic new Western The Hateful Eight, he convinced the Weinstein Company to foot the bill for restoring around 100 70mm film projectors, so that his movie could be shown on the wide-screen film format for its opening weekend.
The version of The Hateful Eight that opens this week (in just one local theater, AMC Town Square) is the “roadshow” edition, mimicking the limited-release extravaganzas of the 1950s and ’60s. It runs just over three hours, including an overture and an intermission, and it features six extra minutes of footage compared to the standard edition that will play in digital projection (minus the overture and intermission) starting next week. Tarantino’s most dedicated fans will want to catch the 70mm version, although the film itself may be a bit disappointing compared to the effort put into presenting it properly.
The cinematography by frequent Tarantino collaborator Robert Richardson is expansive, but for all the insistence on panoramic images, the vast majority of the movie takes place inside a one-room cabin, a location with limited visual possibilities. That’s where the vile characters of the title (although there are more than eight) have holed up to ride out a fierce winter storm on the Wyoming frontier. Chief among them are former Union military commander Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), now a bounty hunter; Warren’s fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell); and Ruth’s prisoner, wanted murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
The characters spend the movie’s first half talking in circles, warily prodding each other to expose hidden agendas. The second half develops into a sort of Agatha Christie-style closed-door murder mystery, as those hidden agendas come to light, and the characters move from talking to shooting (and other violent acts). The increasingly bloody payoffs don’t quite make up for the sluggish first half, though, and Tarantino’s trademark wordy dialogue has lost some of its charm, especially in its showy and often misguided use of the N-word. Tarantino has been meticulous about showing audiences The Hateful Eight in exactly the manner he envisioned, but he hasn’t created a movie quite worth all that fuss.