Film Review “The Hateful Eight”

Starring: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Rated: R
Running time: 3 hrs 8 mins (includes Overture and Intermission)
The Weinstein Company

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

One thing (of many) that I love about Quentin Tarantino is that he knows the history of film. Not only the films themselves but how they were presented. For “The Hateful Eight” he has harkened back to the old days of “Road Shows,” when films would open in only a few cities in the country, before opening wide later. These presentations were events, featuring reserved seats and program guides, and when they began patrons would pay a quarter to see them when the normal price to see a film was a dime. “Gone With The Wind,” “Oklahoma,” “Ben Hur,” “The Alamo,” “The Sound of Music” and “Patton” were some of the films that opened this way. Now, four decades since the last “roadshow” film (“The Man of La Mancha”), the big event is back with “The Hateful Eight.”

A stagecoach makes its way through the snow, containing John Ruth (Russell) and fellow passenger Daisy Domergue (Leigh). As their driver, O.B. (James Parks, son of longtime Tarantino ensemble member Michael) tries to beat the blizzard closing in on them they are flagged down by a mysterious man on the side of the road who asks, “got room for one more?” Ruth is skeptical. His nickname is “the Hangman” and Daisy is his prisoner. Soon John Ruth, Daisy Domergue and the mystery man find themselves stranded at a stagecoach stop called Minnie’s Haberdashery along with five other people. These are the hateful eight!

If anyone can hold your attention for three hours with a film whose story takes place in one room it’s Tarantino. His way with dialogue has no equal. Neither do the performances of his cast. Russell, whose mustache and facial hair have him resembling Yosemite Sam, is gruff and no-nonsense. The mystery man, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) is also a bounty hunter, though he claims to have no knowledge of the healthy reward being offered for Daisy. They also make the acquaintance of Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the new sheriff in town. Waiting for them inside are Bob “the Mexican” (Demian Bichar), Oswaldo Mobrey (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and former (the wrong side) Civil War General Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Each has a story, as well as a story to tell, and it is here that we meet and begin to understand who is who.

If you paid attention to the running time you’ll see that the film runs in excess of three hours. This includes the Overture (a title card flashed on screen while the musical score plays) and an Intermission, which is just exactly what it sounds like. This divides the story and, more importantly, the film. Where the first half seems a little forced, the second half is pure Tarantino gold. Back in January 2014, the script to “The Hateful Eight” was leaked to the public, so angering Tarantino that he vowed to never make the film. Eventually cooler heads prevailed but the first half of the film seems almost unfinished, as if the draft of the script Tarantino used wasn’t completed fully. Both halves are propelled by another excellent group of ensemble actors. Russell, who never seems to blink, is cold and no-nonsense. Leigh is filthy and disgusting. Jackson is smooth and cool. Goggins is braggadocio. And the four who are there to greet them? Quiet and calculating. Of course, this is Tarantino, so nothing is ever exactly as it seems.

Technically the film is almost perfect. The opening sequences in the snow covered mountains are breathtaking. The film is slated to play in 70 mm in selected cities starting this Friday, and I can only imagine how it will look in that format. That being said, the majority of the film takes place indoors so I’m not sure how much of a difference the 70 mm format will make. The film is almost over-the-top bloody and, like “Django Unchained” before it, there are multiple uses of the “N” word, so be prepared for an adult evening out. And an entertaining one.

Michael Madsen talks about “The Hateful Eight” and the possibility of a “Vega Brothers” movie

Michael Madsen is the rare actor who can give the “bad guy” enough of a heart that moviegoers often root for him instead of the hero. In films like “Reservoir Dogs,” “The Getaway” and “Kill Bill, Volumes 1 and 2,” Madsen is the bad ass that the audience loves. Not that he’s always bad. He’s shown a softer side in many films, among them “Free Willy” and “Wyatt Earp.”

I spoke with Mr. Madsen about, among other things, his seemingly busy schedule, his dislike of the Internet Movie Database, the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film “The Hateful Eight” and whether or not a “Vega Brothers” film is still a possibility.

Mike Smith: I see you’re slated to play Vegas gambling mogul Ted Binion in an upcoming film. How did that come about?
Michael Madsen: The film is going to be produced by Robert Evans and directed by his son, Josh. Ted was part of the family that owned the Binion Casinos. He wound up getting hooked on drugs and ended up with a dancer and….well, they went a little crazy. He would go out and bury silver in the desert. The film is based on the book “Death in the Desert” and we shot it earlier this year in Las Vegas.

MS: You always seem to play the tough guy. Even in an early film, like “The Natural.” Your character, Bump, was a hard ass. Do you ever just want to do an out and out comedy?
MM: I’ve done a little bit. I did “My Bosses Daugher” with Ashton Kutcher…that was pretty funny. And I did a picture called “Lumberjack Man,” which hasn’t come out yet, where I play a kind of bumbling, Peter Sellers-type detective. I think it’s pretty damn funny. My comic genius hasn’t revealed itself yet (laughs).

MS: If you look at the Internet Movie Database it looks like you’re constantly working. When do you find the time to take a breath?
MM: If you look at the IMDB you would think that I was some sort of robotic machine. But the reality is that the IMDB is very, very unreliable. I would go so far as to say that they are irresponsible. There are a lot of things on there that are supposedly in pre-production and aren’t. A lot of things that are supposedly going to be released. They also mention films in which I only appear for ten minutes. I mean, in reality, no human being can make fifteen motion pictures in one year. So a lot of those are, I would say, questionable. I mean, the films that we’re talking about right now are the films I’ve legitimately done and are going to come out.

MS: I understand your frustration with IMDB. I have a few credits on there and one of them is that I hosted my own Canadian talk show back in the 1980s. I keep telling them it’s not me but they won’t listen.
MM: I’ve contacted them many times. I’ve said, “guys, it’s ME. It’s Michael. I’m telling you right now that that movie never happened, that movie was never finished, this is never going to come out…whatever the situation. And they tell me “well, it’s a public page.” And I don’t understand that. It’s kind of bewhildering…kind of irresponsible. It’s sad, you know, that they would put out information like that if it’s not true.

MS: Well, I think if they’re given the correct information they’re not only doing a disservice to their readers but to the people they’re talking about.
MM: Yeah. Then when I talk to someone like you asking me about the (25) pictures I’m in (laughs)…I have to defend myself and say no. I’d hate to think that some people were thinking about making an interesting film and they were thinking of Michael Madsen so they go to the IMDB and go “Holy Shit!” They’re not going to call me. It’s almost interfering with my work, them putting all of this stuff in there.

MS: You’ve voiced a few video games. Is there a difference in the acting process you use as opposed to films?
MM: Well, first off you don’t have to shave and you can show up in your pajamas. I would imagine Martin Sheen probably has a recording studio in his house. If I was him I sure would. Video games and voiceovers aren’t easy. You do have to be at the top of your game. You have to record each line several times. It does take four or five recording sessions, each of them lasting five or six hours, but in the end, some of the games are pretty interesting. People like them. I enjoy them. I really do.

MS: What can you tell us about “The Hateful Eight?”
MM: I’m a cowboy…a cow puncher. It’s a western that takes place on a mountain in the snow just after the Civil War.

MS: Since we’re speaking about Quentin, has he ever discussed with you the possibility of a Vega Brothers movie?
MM: We’ve talked about it many times. I think that over time the story would have had to change. I recently met John. Believe it or not, I had never met him. I met him at the Cannes Film Festival last year. I was there with Quentin and they did a screening of “Pulp Fiction” on the Majestic Beach, outdoors. It was pretty exciting…a great evening. And I met John. And I tell you, when the two of us were standing there next to Quentin…I think in that moment it might have become more of a reality. I think the Vega Brothers might be more of a reality. But that would be a question for the man. That would be a question for Quentin.