I have to hand it to Quentin Tarantino: two decades into his career, he's still trying to find ways to turn his movies into theatrical events. This hasn't always worked out for him: his four-hour Kill Bill was sliced into two separate films for its theatrical run, and his experiment with Robert Rodriguez, Grindhouse, designed to emulate the fun of watching a double feature at a sleazy repertory theater (such as LA's New Beverly, which Tarantino subsequently bought), was also divided into two standalone features for home video.
The Hateful Eight is another lengthy proposition, clocking in at just under three hours – actually, over three hours, if you see the film the way Tarantino intended, on projected 70mm film and with a musical overture and intermission, just like the studio epics of the 1960s. This time, producer/distributor Harvey Weinstein gave free reign to the director's ambitions, though he forced a digital release of the film as well. Alas, I did not see The Hateful Eight in 70mm, though Tarantino's insistence on using this expensive, practically extinct film stock is rather quirky, given that the bulk of his movie takes place inside a single cabin.
The plot concerns an octet of suspicious characters who find themselves snowed in together one evening in 1870s Wyoming, their mutual distrust ever deepening. Although the film is ostensibly a Western, it's really more an homage to Agatha Christie whodunits: The Hateful Eight will feel familiar to anyone who's seen The Mousetrap. Smartly, Tarantino, knowing that a whodunit is an intellectual exercise with little actual suspense, turned his drama into a who's-gonna-do-it, playfully ratcheting up the tension with each passing minute.
Though the film is predictably talky and there are some slow moments, I was never bored, thanks especially to a third act that pays off in spades. Stagy as it may be – in fact, Tarantino has suggested adapting his own script into a stage play – in the end there is no question whose movie you're watching.
The actors, Tarantino veterans and newcomers alike, are all in top form, Ennio Morricone's score is fabulous (though there's not enough of it)... and the rest comes down to whether you like the writer/director or not. If you're a fan, I can't imagine that you will be disappointed by The Hateful Eight. It lacks the emotional punch of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, relying instead on pure meanness (and a misogynistic vibe, forgiven only because Tarantino usually shows great respect for his female characters), but it's confidently over-the-top and I enjoyed it.