The opening titles of Hateful Eight want to make sure we know this is Quentin Tarantino's 9th film. Whether the intention be branding, self aggrandising or simple telegraphing it's hard to know what reaction to have.
No doubt the die hard Tarantino fans will whoop and holler. Others will wince. The majority of us want to be entertained. From the raw wake-up-call of Reservoir Dogs and the game-changing Pulp Fiction, we all want a bit of that ol' magic. The creative and genre-bending Tarantino can be a darling to those self-proclaimed cinephiles. It's not like he hasn't earned to Kudos. Whether it be Vampires or Kung Fu, Tarantino has always been able to take the best of it's tropes and turn it into something new - if not always original. It's his unapologetic mutations that the audience come to see.
It doesn't always work. Death Proof was fun, but the engine underneath seemed to misfire when it was meant to surge the RPM's. Kill Bill seemed to be so pleased with itself, it didn't care that we got it but wanted to move on.
The script to Hateful Eight was leaked back in 2014 and after threatening to jettison the project and transform into a novel, the motor mouth turned auteur took a few more passes at the pages. It's hard to say for sure if this benefited the end result or not, but Hateful Eight is a real gem. Where Django had speckles of others, it certainly leaned on a love for Sergio Leone. Hateful Eight is more Robert Altman with crimson splashes of Sam Peckinpah. Like Peckinpah, Tarantino has never shied away from explicit depictions of violence, but there's a satisfaction to the interactions of Hateful Eight that Altman achieved in the likes of McCabe and Mrs Miller.
Unlike some of his other movies - certainly Basterds and Kill Bill - the director seems confident enough with his movie to let it be it's own thing. While it's still very much Quentin's flick, he allows it to breath and move where it benefits most. Not since Jackie Brown have the characters seemed less like Tarantino's hands are moving their mouths like sock puppets. The movie is almost entirely made up of the exchanges between all the characters as the audience piece together who's who, who are they pretending to be and what are their motives. It's a total joy, narratively tantalising the viewer. Not only will you not know what's coming, you have the feeling you're better off that way. Better yet, the flick pulls off this trick without winking or nodding at you, which would ultimately draw you out of the experience. It makes for a really immersive journey through this western-tinted tale.
The cast themselves reflect this ethos. The movie itself is much like a play. The events unravel in one room, for the most part. So rather than showboat or jostle for the spotlight, in a bid to chew scenery, everyone is happy to wait their turn and they all have their fair share! It's a brilliant mix with perfect casting. Even the (seemingly) stunt casting, like Bruce Dern, is perfectly pitched and tailored for the part.
It's hard to find faults in a film that looks so effortless in accomplishing it's goals. Hateful Eight's real success is ultimately in what it knows not to do. Any minor gripes of the plot's explanation being more of a show-and-tell rather than a rug-pulling are quickly forgotten when we rejoin our characters for the messy conclusion.
5* - How the West was Fun