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Film review: The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino tackles racial politics in entertaining jaunt

Director’s second western relies on great performances, trademark snappy dialogue and excess violence

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 February, 2016, 2:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 February, 2016, 5:27pm

Race relations and racism have been back in the news in the US, and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight doesn’t shrink from making direct comments about them. Even though it’s a pulp western brimming with the director’s usual blood, guts and wry humour, the racial politics are more contemporary in nature than in his 2012 western Django Unchained .

READ ALSO: Quentin Tarantino talks the making of The Hateful Eight

Oddly for a big-screen western shot for a 70mm release, the film is set almost exclusively indoors, in a single location. Nine characters – the “Eight” is to denote that it’s Tarantino’s eighth movie – are forced to shelter from a blizzard in a secluded haberdashery.

There’s a couple of bounty hunters (Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell) and the bounty itself, a murderer played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Two cowboys, a hangman, the stagecoach driver, a former Confederate general, and a would-be sheriff make up the troupe. The bounty hunters want to get the murderess into town to collect the reward – but are their erstwhile companions conspiring against them?

Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds saw Tarantino refine his clever, film-referential storytelling techniques to a high degree – the characters had genuine depth and the direction was brilliantly conceived. The Hateful Eight is clunky by comparison. The storyline is weak and like Tarantino’s early films, relies on sleight of hand, snappy dialogue, and over-the-top violence to elevate itself from pure B-movie status.

But it’s entertaining enough, and the hours pass quickly. Most of the fun comes from the performances. It’s enjoyable to see Kurt Russell hamming it up as a garrulous bounty hunter, coming across like a weird cross between Clint Eastwood and Kris Kristofferson. Jackson delivers his usual gruff stuff, but does it well, and a blood-caked, black-eyed Leigh relishes her chance to channel evil.

The Hateful Eight opens on February 18