Like the greatest auteurs, Quentin Tarantino is a man with certain obsessions. And like the great auteurs who're recognized young, he's been given license to pursue his stylistic proclivities to the brink of self-parody. I say that by way of warning to those who've heard the Oscar buzz around his new mystery Western, The Hateful Eight.
The Hateful Eight is a lot of very good things. It's a spectacular bit of storytelling set against 70 millimeters of Wyoming grandeur, yet neat enough to fit together like the gears in a Swiss watch, with stellar character acting and crackling dialogue. But it's also very much a Tarantino film. You can bring Quentin Tarantino to John Ford country, a place where teams of horses blow their hot breath against an ocean of white snow and a craggy horizon. You can give him two reels of double-wide film and an intermission. You can give him Channing Tatum and Jennifer Jason Leigh. But he's going to go grindhouse. So, yes, there are buckets of bright red blood spilled on bright white shirts, copious use of the most offensive English-language word beginning with N and a bloody Mexican standoff.
In terms of the story, we have here a Reservoir Dogs-style whack-a-mole, writ large. Kurt Russell is John "The Hangman" Ruth, a bounty hunter charged with bringing the mysterious Daisy Domergue (Leigh) into Red Rock, Wyo., to hang. Unlike his brothers in the craft, he feels an obligation to see his prisoners hang instead of shooting 'em in the back. And so he boards a stagecoach running just ahead of a blizzard, which comes across snowbound and desperate Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins. They're eventually trapped inside a country inn with four lodgers, some of whom may be working in concert with the prisoner.
It's a great setup, and Tarantino plays the string out perfectly. I saw the 187-minute roadshow version in 35 mm—available in 70 mm at Hollywood Theatre, one of 100 such theaters in the country—but it still didn't feel bloated. The long and plentiful monologues are sharp, backstories emerge in a natural way, and the twists are unexpected until they're obvious.
The cartoonish level of violence in the third act will give some pause—it's Kill Bill with fewer bodies but tighter shots—but that's to be expected of Tarantino, a man who's had 20 years to indulge his impulses, and who'll hopefully have 20 more.
SEE IT: The Hateful Eight is rated R. It opens Friday at most Portland-area theaters and in 70 mm at the Hollywood Theatre.