One of the biggest complaints that's often levelled against Quentin Tarantino is just how over-indulgent he can be. Whether it's running length, subject matter, attention to detail or constant references to obscure films, his detractors almost never let him forget him whilst his defenders praise him for it. One thing's for certain - you can always tell when you're watching a Tarantino film because it truly is like no other. The Hateful Eight was the film that almost wasn't. Following a very public legal battle over its script leaking online, Tarantino proclaimed that the film would never see the inside of a cinema screen.
Yet, here we are, for better or worse with a fully realised film. In fact, there's two versions of the film - one known as the "roadshow" version that comes with an Intermission and Overture and the other that's been skimmed down ever so slightly. The film opens with a stagecoach headed through a blizzard on its way to Red Rock. In said stagecoach is Kurt Russell's impressive facial hair and Jennifer Jason Leigh's shackled prisoner, who come across Samuel L. Jackson who convinces Russell to give him a lift to the next stop. They move a little further before they're stopped again, this time by Walton Goggins who has his own reasons for being out in the snow. When they eventually reach the next stop, a haberdashery out on its own, they're met by a Mexican (Demian Bichir), an English hangman (Tim Roth), a near-mute cowboy (Michael Madsen) and an aged, racist Confederate general (Bruce Dern). What follows can only be described as a standoff as one by one, they begin to drop by various means.
The cast is by far Tarantino's most eclectic, with the interplay between Russell, Leigh and Jackson being the highlight of the film. However, when the film shifts into the haberdashery, it becomes much closer to a whodunnit and the tension builds with relative ease. Each character is realised to varying degrees; Dern's cantankerous old codger is in direct contrast to Roth's oily mannerisms whilst Madsen gives an understated performance. The real star of the show is, without a shadow of a doubt, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Rabid, vicious and brutal, she serves as the film's catalyst and her characterisation is truly no-holds-barred. The violence on show, meanwhile, is arguably Tarantino's most lurid. Sure, we've seen what he can do in the past - but it never felt quite so hard-hitting and blood-soaked as this. It doesn't so much as focus on the violence as the film is the violence. Each of the characters has an air of barely restrained menace to them and there's a sense that it could blow up at any minute.
Despite this, The Hateful Eight is easily the most beautiful-looking film Tarantino has put together. When it switches to exterior shots, the 70mm camera drinks in the harsh beauty of the snow-strewn mountains whilst the interiors are lit and shot in an unobtrusive manner. It's as close to a theatre experience as Tarantino is ever likely to get, unhindered by his usual array of gimmicks or tricks. Here, he focuses on the story and, in a way, that's his downfall. The film is so heavily laboured that it becomes tiresome to watch. Sure, he can build up an effective sense of dread, allowing the venomous personalities of all the characters to treacle out of the screen - but it all takes far too long to get going and, eventually, when it does, it's sort of meaningless. The scenes are so drawn out and filled with pointless exposition and world-building that it begins to drag the pacing down. Yes, we get that Kurt Russell's bounty hunter prefers to bring people in alive - but do we really need to be reminded of that fact every time his character opens his mouth or is mentioned by someone else?
It's a shame because, with a decent amount of editing, The Hateful Eight could be a fine entry to Tarantino's catalogue. It has all the ingredients - pitch-black humour, a fantastic soundtrack with original music by Ennio Morricone, over-the-top violence and some nuggets of great dialogue in there. You can see what he's going for, trying to mix Agatha Christie with Sergio Leone and grindhouse horror thrown in to the pot. What comes out is something else. It's Tarantino, definitely, but at his worst.