Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight was almost canceled by the filmmaker after its early script draft was leaked, but (obviously) he thereafter had a change of heart and moved forward with the project - ultimately selecting to shoot the movie in a manner that allows it to be distributed as an old-fashioned 70mm Roadshow presentation, complete with a mid-movie intermission. The vast majority of filmgoers won't see Hateful Eight until it begins its regular digital theatrical release on New Year's Eve, but those in select cities (read the list of locations HERE) can check it out in 70 mm for a week starting Christmas Day.
Hateful Eight reviews have already started making their way online as a result - and, as you might expect, the overall critical impression thus far is very much positive, as has been the case for most of Tarantino's previous seven directorial efforts (save for Death Proof, which earned a lukewarm reception on the whole). Tarantino's latest film has landed Golden Globe nominations for its screenwriting and performances - specifically, that of Jennifer Jason Leigh as the foul-mouthed outlaw Daisy Domergue - and it sounds as though those elements are indeed two of the movie's best qualities, judging by the initial wave of reviews.
For those curious, here's the (shortened) synopsis for The Hateful Eight:
While racing toward the town of Red Rock in post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) encounter another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and a man who claims to be a sheriff. Hoping to find shelter from a blizzard, the group travels to a stagecoach stopover located on a mountain pass. Greeted there by four strangers, the eight travelers soon learn that they may not make it to their destination after all.
Hateful Eight sounds like a blend of Sam Peckinpah-style violent western tropes and Agatha Christie-esque single setting mystery/thriller (think And Then There Were None), based on the film's synopsis alone. Unsurprisingly, a number of the movie's reviews have already name-dropped Christie's collective work as a clear influence on Tarantino's new film, while at the same time noting the project's highly-theatrical qualities (seeing as it's even more dialogue-driven than Tarantino movies past) - as you may note in the following SPOILER-FREE Hateful Eight review excerpts:
Variety - Peter Debruge
[Quentin] Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” [is] a salty hothouse whodunit that owes as much to Agatha Christie as it does to Anthony Mann. Though Tarantino toys with many of the lawless frontier genre’s classic tropes, it’s arguable whether this deliciously long-winded mystery — “molasses-like,” to use his own term — qualifies as a Western at all. It might more aptly be considered an ongoing North-vs.-Southern, seeing as how it crams hair-trigger racial tensions into an otherwise neutral outpost... The gratuitous bloodletting and hefty running time [should] appeal primarily to cinephiles...
THR - Todd McCarthy
Most of us were raised to believe that cowboys were men of few words, but Quentin Tarantino is out to prove otherwise in The Hateful Eight, a three-hour Western that's windy both inside and out. There is absolutely no doubt about who wrote the elaborate, pungent, profane and often funny dialogue that a fine cast chews over and spits out with evident glee, nor as to who staged the ongoing bloodbath that becomes a gusher in the final stretch. But set mostly in the confined space of a remote haberdashery/stagecoach stop, the piece plays like a weird combination of John Ford's Stagecoach, Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians and Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, albeit with a word count closer to Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh.
The Wrap - Alonso Duralde
[When] you think of Tarantino shooting a Western in 70mm, you picture sweeping shots of cowboys and cattle stampeding across big sky country, rather than the rather intimate chamber piece he’s made here... There’s plenty of bloodshed and mayhem on display, to be sure, and Tarantino still revels in pushing buttons when it comes to depicting and discussing race in this country, but “The Hateful Eight” owes less to Sergio Leone than it does to Agatha Christie. If you’re the kind of moviegoer who got restless during the more dialogue-heavy sequences of “Death Proof” or “Reservoir Dogs,” you may find that there’s too much talk and not enough action in a movie that teeters on the three-hour mark.
That being said, some find the extra slow-burn and dialogue-heavy nature of Hateful Eight's narrative to be more tedious than engaging:
EW - Andrew Cooper
As someone who’s loved almost all of Tarantino’s films, I felt—for the first time—something close to disappointment. At their best, his films give off the giddy sensation of too much—that he has so many inspired ideas vibrating in his celluloid brain that he overwhelms us. But The Hateful Eight doesn’t have enough ideas. Set almost entirely in a snowed-in saloon, the story’s so spare it doesn’t warrant either its three-hour running time (including an overture and intermission) or his use of 70mm projection. It’s narratively and visually claustrophobic.
Most of the Hateful Eight reviews thus far have also touched on the film's pointed political commentary - something that Tarantino has talked up while promoting his feature during interviews past - and how it adds to the emotionally-volatile nature of the movie as a whole (in a good way). Indeed, the relative simplicity of Hateful Eight's setup (a bunch of strangers wind up trapped in the same building together) seemingly provides an effective vehicle for Tarantino to deliver his own sociopolitical musings through the film's characters (energetically brought to life by a very talented and game cast), while at the same time creating a vivid and tense viewing experience... or so reviews like the following would have you believe:
Screen Crush - Matt Singer
Those willing to put in the time will find a movie that is both beautiful and hideous, funny and shocking, and even thoughtful on occasion; once it’s fully occupied, Minnie’s Haberdashery becomes something of a microcosm of America, one that, in Tarantino’s jaundiced view, is a melting pot where everyone gets burned. Those in power can’t be trusted, and neither can the people they’re protecting. You can take away people’s guns, but they’ll always find more. And when it gets really quiet, all that’s left is the howl of the blizzard wind and the sound of film through the projector.
Uproxx - Mike Ryan
It’s weird to use the phrase “less is more” with The Hateful Eight, a movie that is three hours long – but I’m going to go ahead and use it here.,, Looking back, almost every line of dialogue, no matter how insignificant it seemed at the time, drives the story forward... This isn’t a Tarantino movie that opens with a bang. It’s a slooooowwwwwwwfuse. But, man, when this movie ignites, it goes off in a big way. The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s eighth film, as the opening credits emphasize, and it’s one of his best — a tense, suspenseful and bloody experience. (Did I mention it’s tense?)
The Guardian - Peter Bradshaw
There is a little of Sergio Leone and the classic pulp westerns of Elmore Leonard, and as a big drama in a little place it could almost be a Sam Peckinpah version of a swearified Harold Pinter... But this movie is just so utterly distinctive, it really could be by no-one else but Tarantino. The inventive, swaggering dialogue is what drives it onward: quintessentially American... “Thriller” is a generic label which has lost its force. But The Hateful Eight thrills.
Others, however, feel that while Hateful Eight benefits from Tarantino's storytelling approach in many ways, it also suffer from it in other ways:
Indiewire - Eric Kohn
No matter how absorbing its individual scenes, however, "The Hateful Eight" is often hindered by Tarantino's confidence in the material. For every gripping sequence, there's an abrupt development or undercooked throwaway line. Crude behavior and blunt twists drown out the subtleties of Tarantino's filmmaking prowess. The inanity of the violence in the closing scenes overtakes the work's deeper ramifications and reduces its appeal, turning a complex portrait of attitudes into a simpler one of rage. The grim finality of the movie's concluding shot ranks as the most cynical moment in Tarantino's career. But it's a less savvy punchline than a punch to the gut.
In short: it sounds as though Hateful Eight might not have as much crossover appeal as past Tarantino offerings like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, due to its suspenseful-but-slow pacing, long running time, and dialogue/performance-driven storytelling style. At the same time, it seems die-hard Tarantino fans and/or cinephiles who are game to give the eccentric auteur's latest exercise in pastiche filmmaking (as well as his newest re-examination of American history by way of vintage genre tropes) a shot should find themselves rewarded for their faith here. H8ters unite!
The Hateful Eight will be presented in 70mm in select U.S. theaters on December 25th, 2015, with a nationwide digital release set for December 31st.
Source: Various (see the above links)