Like Federico Fellini did with his eighth-and-a-half film, Quentin Tarantino has named his eighth film “The Hateful Eight” — though he has significantly less to ponder than the Itallian master.
While Fellini explored his own artistic impulses and insecurities, Tarantino simply pays homage to “roadshow” movie releases that culminated in the 1950s. Like those, this full-length, three-hour-plus version of “The Hateful Eight” includes an overture — with a delicious new score by Ennio Morricone — and an intermission.
Yet its story — focusing on just a handful of characters in two main locations — could have come from a half-hour episode of any television Western of the 1960s.
It begins on a stagecoach rattling through the snow. The passengers are bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his bounty, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who already sports a black eye. They are on their way to Red Rock, but a storm is fast closing in.
On the road, they encounter another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and, later, the newly appointed sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). The characters know each other by reputation, and there is much conversing.
The storm catches up, and they stop for shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery. More colorful characters — played by Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir and Bruce Dern — await.
Many of these folks are up to no good. Some are lying about who they are, and some are biding their time before making a move. Eventually someone poisons the coffee. But whodunit?
The presence of Madsen and Roth in a one-room pressure-cooker calls to mind Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” and the filmmaker offers flashbacks and surprise twists courtesy of that film, “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown.”
All in all, “The Hateful Eight” is less surprising than those three movies. But one thing is certain: a violent showdown at the end. The movie climbs inexorably toward it.
“The Hateful Eight” is much tighter, and more tightly-wound, than “Django Unchained,” and it’s a great deal of fun. The limited space and set design inspire expert staging and composition, and each character fills the frame in his or her own unique way.
The chatter is smokily rhythmic — words spilling, swirling or holding — just for the mere pleasure of the sound.
Still, there doesn’t seem to be an advantage to the film’s immense scale. It easily could have been a crackling small package like “Reservoir Dogs,” — a movie that, instead giving us everything plus the kitchen sink, left us wanting more.
The Hateful Eight
Three and a half stars
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Running time 3 hours, 2 minutes