Back in early 2014, Quentin Tarantino made a lot of noise, pointing fingers, bad-mouthing Hollywood agents, when a draft of the screenplay for his new western, The Hateful Eight, leaked out on the blogosphere.
"I have no desire to make it," the writer/director, burnt and betrayed, told Mike Fleming at Deadline.com. "I'll move on to the next thing. I've got 10 more where that came from."
Alas, he must have stuffed those 10 more back in his drawer. After nursing his wounds, Tarantino went and made The Hateful Eight anyhow.
An epic work of self-indulgence and smug riffing, stringing together tropes from TV and screen westerns and closed-room whodunits, The Hateful Eight announces itself with all the pomp and circumstance of a midcentury cinema spectacle. The "road show version" of "the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino" (as per the opening credits), opening on about 100 screens Friday (it opens wider Thursday, in a digital format), is projected in the 70mm film format, beginning with a title card that reads, "Overture." For more than three minutes, we can shift around in our seats and stare at the static wide-screen silhouette of a stagecoach pulled by a team of horses, as a (quite lovely) new Ennio Morricone score works its slow way around the room.
An hour and 41 minutes into this post-Civil War tale of bad dudes, bounty hunters, and a foulmouthed lady outlaw, an "Intermission" card stops everybody in their tracks.
Twelve minutes later, Tarantino's opus oater resumes, changing tone and introducing a coachload of new characters for its concluding chapters. Despite some gorgeous establishing shots of the wintry west (white aspen forests, white-clad mountains, storm-clouded skies), most of The Hateful Eight takes place inside Minnie's Haberdashery, a stagecoach station on a mountain pass. There's a mean blizzard a-blowin', and it behooves all parties to wait out the storm in the comfort of Minnie's cabin.
There's a blazing fire, and she makes the best coffee in the world, or so we're told. There are worse ways to while away a couple of days.
Then again, maybe not.
Jawing and chawing their way around Tarantino's cherished prose are Samuel L. Jackson, as Maj. Marquis Warren, a legendary Union soldier turned bounty hunter. He smokes a pipe, sports a wily gleam, and carries a letter from Abraham Lincoln, a personal missive he is particularly proud of. Word of "the Lincoln letter" has gotten around.
Marquis has met up with John Ruth, a fellow bounty hunter escorting a prisoner via stagecoach. Kurt Russell, in a fur hat and a David Crosby mustache (and talking with John Wayne cadences), is this man Ruth, who keeps a close eye on his captive, one Daisy Domergue (a snarling, smudge-faced Jennifer Jason Leigh), a murderess he is transporting to Red Rock, Wyo., to be hanged. The town's newly appointed sheriff (Walton Goggins) is making his way to Red Rock, too, and hitches a ride on that same stagecoach bound for its fateful stopover at Minnie's.
Tim Roth (a traveling hangman, and a loquacious Brit), Bruce Dern (an old Confederate general), Michael Madsen (a cow puncher), and Demián Bichir (the Mexican who works for Minnie) round out the titular eight, some more hateful than the rest.
Tarantino, whose earliest pictures - Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown - crackled with wiseguy dialogue and cool digressions into pop-cult spheres, clearly thinks his wordsmithing is without equal, and without need of editing. And so these actors, and the ones joining them at the halfway mark (Zoe Bell and Channing Tatum among 'em), embark on long soliloquies less meaningful than mundane, full of anachronistic argot, arch jabber, and cowpoke exclamations such as "I'll be double-dog damned."
The N-word, which Tarantino deployed with button-pushing profligacy in 2012's slavery western Django Unchained, is all over The Hateful Eight, too. With its crusty Civil War veterans staring each other down across the long wooden planks of Minnie's way station, race and racial loathing seem like legitimate issues to explore.
But whether it's Jackson or Dern or Leigh spittin' out the ethnic slur, it leaves a decidedly bad taste - gratuitous, gimmicky, and ultimately beside the point.
That is because - despite its attention-grabbing format and daunting running time (and despite the extracurricular publicity Tarantino has generated by speaking out against police violence) - there is no point to The Hateful Eight at all.
The Hateful Eight ** (Out of four stars)
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. With Bruce Dern,
Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth,
and Kurt Russell. Distributed by
the Weinstein Co.
Running time: 3 hours, 7 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: At select area theaters in 70mm "roadshow" version; opens wide in multiplex version Dec. 31.