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There's a hilariously gratuitous moment in The Hateful Eight where two men projectile vomit geysers of blood en route to death. It's like an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon set in the Old West. And yet The Hateful Eight is still the director's most grown-up work. That's the beauty of what Tarantino has been able to do with his career since the Sundance breakout of his 1992 debut, Reservoir Dogs—he's a prestige filmmaker whose name immediately guarantees Oscar nominations even though his movies are essentially bigger versions of what you'd find playing during Fantastic Fest's midnight slots.
The Hateful Eight, which is Tarantino's bloodiest film so far, epitomizes how he’s been able to merge genre excess with A-list notoriety. There are very few filmmakers in the world who'd receive a $44 million budget to make a three-hour-long chamber piece with echoes of John Carpenter's The Thing, and which has required certain movie theaters to drop upwards of $80,000 to support Tarantino's desired 70mm roadshow cut. Then again, there aren't any other writers and directors quite like Tarantino. With The Hateful Eight, he's made the purest distillation of everything that defines Tarantino Cinema. The surface-level plot is bare-bones: Eight random strangers, including a hangman (Kurt Russell), his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and a former Civil War major with a racially charged chip on his shoulder (Samuel L. Jackson), get trapped inside a quaint and isolated haberdashery during a wicked snowstorm in post-Civil War Wyoming. And none of them are trustworthy, leading to lies, manipulations, murder, and more than one exploding head.
Story wise, The Hateful Eight isn't anything new for Tarantino. Once the characters converge inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, it's basically the German tavern scene in Inglourious Basterds stretched out over two-plus hours, with Tarantino's singular brand of crackling dialogue, we're-having-so-much-damn-fun-right-now performances, and a well-paced escalation from talky whodunit to overboard carnage. But technically speaking, The Hateful Eight represents a big leap forward for Tarantino, an exceptional behind-the-camera filmmaker who's been known for hyper stylization. Here, though, he restrains himself, subtly turning the haberdashery into a claustrophobic yet easily traceable dungeon. He lets the setting dictate the action more so than his camera. Gone are the thrillingly self-indulgent flourishes like Death Proof's four-POV multiple vehicular homicide.
Tarantino's reputation as a screenwriter is incomparable—those two Academy Awards for Pulp Fiction (1994) and Django Unchained (2012) speak for themselves. But with The Hateful Eight, he's pulled off a first: a Quentin Tarantino film where the direction trumps the writing.
70mm roadshow information here. The Hateful Eight opens wide on January 1st.