“The Hateful Eight” is an ultrawide bore. If you have the option, and you’re committed to seeing the thing, you should see Quentin Tarantino’s latest in one of its 100 or so limited-release “roadshow” screenings, projected on film, complete with overture (a lovely, eerie one from the great composer Ennio Morricone) and running three hours and eight minutes in all. After that, it’ll be the conventional digital projection editions at the multiplexes, running 20 minutes shorter.
Writer-director Tarantino has described his post-Civil War picture, set largely in a Wyoming roadhouse with a blizzard raging outside, as an Agatha Christie western. It’s not so much a shoot-'em-up (though the violence is outlandishly rough when it comes) as a guess-'em-up. Now and then one of the duplicitous weasels braves the cold (the film was shot largely near Telluride, Colo.) to remind us where we are, and what the scenery looks like.
I just wish the results didn’t feel like 70 minutes of viable story taffy pulled out to a brazen length. Tarantino’s a born writer, but he’s not a born self-editor of his own writerly blab. The script here is riddled with showy rhetorical flourishes and tedious running gags, one being how often Tarantino can work in the N-word, as both a facetious and “serious” example of casual, venal racism. Similarly, some of the violence is meant to be sobering, whether directed at black characters or white scoundrels or the much-abused female lead, a murderous prisoner played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. But most of the splatter when things go bonkers is strictly for sadistic kicks. It’s a strange blend, this movie: a Super Panavision 70 spectacular (the first since 1966) that takes place mostly around tables.
The entrances and exits are consciously theatrical, when they’re not paying direct homage to the primary “Hateful Eight” influences, which include such TV series as “Bonanza” and “The Virginian.” Various observers have noted a particular debt owed to the “Fair Game” episode of the lesser-known series “The Rebel.” Whatever; Tarantino’s a magpie, a mash-up artist, and always has been. When the movies work, the movies work. The idea here, I think, was to slowly increase the heat on a pressure-cooker scenario. The experience (mine, at least) of it is more like the air going blllllllpppppptttt out of an overinflated balloon.
At Minnie’s, Minnie herself is oddly absent. The guests wait out the storm, with a tight-lipped Confederate general (Bruce Dern); a tight-lipped cowpoke (Michael Madsen, unable to stop playing with his hair); a voluble Englishman (Tim Roth, extremely welcome); and their nominal host, Bob (Demian Bichir). The opening credits promise appearances by, among others, Channing Tatum, but any more would wander into spoiler territory. Everyone in “The Hateful Eight” tells one story and hides another, and the sexually goading monologue (set ironically to “Silent Night”) Jackson delivers just before the intermission is, I think, the splitter for this movie. If you find the speech arresting and effective, you’re in for the duration. If you don’t, you’re probably already wondering why Tarantino struggles to activate the film rhythmically, dramatically, visually. Tarantino can do many things but he’s not one to move the camera within a shot in unexpected ways.
Phillips is a Tribune Newspapers critic.
FOR THE RECORD
Dec. 26, 8:59 a.m.: This article incorrectly lists Friday as the “Hateful Eight” release date. It’s out in wide release on Thursday.
“The Hateful Eight” — 2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)
Running time for roadshow version, including overture and intermission: 3:07
Running time for multiplex wide-release version: 2:47