"The name of the game here is patience," a character says late into The Hateful Eight. Quentin Tarantino's films have always tested viewers' patience, but therein lies their strength. Unlike the pulpy genre pictures to which they pay homage, his films let scenes breathe. He brings larger-than-life characters down to earth, showing gangsters talking about burgers and bounty hunters chatting over coffee. The dialogue doesn't interrupt the action — it is the action. Although his films are defined by ultra-violence, they're always battles of wits first and foremost.
The Hateful Eight revolves around characters whose tongues are as sharp as their weapons. However, although the film is a great reminder of Tarantino's gift for gab, it's also a refreshing departure for him — a moodier, more atmospheric effort. This is a film about tension — but not just the tension of death’s looming presence. The Hateful Eight is rife with racial, social and political tension.
Ennio Morricone's ominous score slithers beneath the snow-swept setting as the main characters barrel across Civil War-torn Wyoming in a blizzard. Kurt Russell stars as brutal bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth. Jennifer Jason Leigh is his prisoner Daisy Domergue. And Samuel L. Jackson is Major Marquis Warren, a war veteran turned bounty hunter they pick up along the way. They also stumble upon the new sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Goggins) on the road to Minnie's Haberdashery, a stagecoach shop where they meet four more shadowy characters.
Most of the film takes place in this eerie one-room setting. While profanities and racial slurs casually ricochet off the walls of the warehouse in Reservoir Dogs, they drive into the floor of this cabin like nails through a coffin. Like Martin Scorsese did with Gangs of New York, Tarantino goes back in time to reveal the bloody roots of American history that led to his iconic crime dramas. The harsh reality of the Civil War looms large, lingering over the story like a ghost.
The Hateful Eight is Tarantino's darkest, most mature film. His signature vitriol and violence carries considerably more emotional weight here. This gritty western isn't a mere genre exercise. The actors don't chew the scenery that much or give too many playful nods to other westerns.
Along with Tarantino, the cast makes you feel the sorrow beneath the film's sensational elements. Leigh wears the wreckage of the post-Civil War setting on her face, faintly smiling through bloodstained teeth. Her character seems simultaneously angry and amused by the world around her. Leigh's presence in the film is like that of a ticking time bomb.
The Hateful Eight has explosive moments, but the strength of the film lies in the quiet before the storm. That's always been the case with Tarantino's films. He's largely considered an exploitation filmmaker, but he's actually an auteur of intimate drama. The Hateful Eight doesn't have otherworldly, adventurous set-pieces like the Kill Bill movies. Like his early films, it thrills us simply with tough talk in tight spaces.