Quentin’s wild, wild Western

The Hateful Eight, the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino, is a sprawling, selfindulgent Western boasting the filmmaker’s crackling dialogue, a superb ensemble cast, and a distinctive flavor all its own. Despite a dearth of competition, it could easily be said that this is the best big-screen Western of the 21 st century.

Having indulged his love for spaghetti Westerns with Django Unchained (2012), some of that flavor has been retained here, starting with a wonderfully brash and bold score by the legendary Ennio Morricone – and who else but Tarantino would have the composer reprise one of his themes from Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) in an early scene?

Yet with Robert Richardson’s dazzling cinematography, immortalized in the rarely-used Ultra Panavision 780 format, there are also nods to John Ford, Howard Hawks, Sam Peckinpah and, just for good measure, Anthony Shaffer. The Hateful Eight is also a whodunit, and the confined setting proves a fertile ground for Tarantino’s boundless imagination.

Much of the action, which is divided into chapters (and occasionally narrated by Tarantino), takes place in and around a haberdashery in 1880s Wyoming territory, where a disparate, and disreputable, group of characters finds itself stranded during a blizzard.

Kurt Russell, easily embodying a cynical anti-hero in the best Clint Eastwood tradition, plays John Ruth, “the Hanging Judge,” who is accompanied by – and chained to – fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She’s due for an appointment at the end of his rope, but circumstances have a way of changing, literally moment to moment.

Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen – all Tarantino veterans – are joined by Walton Goggins (showing true grit), Demian Bichir, Channing Tatum, James Parks and the always-welcome Bruce Dern. All are in top form here, each one getting multiple moments to shine.

The title is a dead giveaway, as The Hateful Eight’s cast embodies a rogue’s gallery in every sense – a loathsome, loutish collection of characters, many of whom get exactly what’s coming to them. There has been controversy (ongoing) regarding Tarantino’s use of profanity and racial slurs, but given the context – with the Civil War still an open wound – such foul vernacular has some bearing on the story at end. Besides, such controversy only adds fuel to Tarantino’s reputation. In no way can any of his films be described as warm and/or cuddly. That’s not his modus operandi, and never has been.

Running nearly three hours, The Hateful Eight could have been trimmed a bit – Tarantino can’t be accused of ever compromising, or shortening, his unique vision – but it’s a singular achievement, a gory treasure chest of black comedy, blood and guts, and starstudded mayhem. One is never quite certain where the film is going, but you sure know how you got there in the end. !