THE HATEFUL EIGHT | ★★★½

Whenever Quentin Tarantino releases a new film, passionate fans of the medium fall head over heels for whatever the (in)famous director has to offer. Last time movie theaters were graced with quality Tarantino entertainment was exactly three years ago. "Django Unchained" seemed to be the film Tarantino had been longing to make his entire career; an explosively violent Western (set in the South) with highly controversial racial overtones and undertones. His eighth film, appropriately titled "The Hateful Eight," proves otherwise. 

This is the film Tarantino's career has led up to, and it shows, albeit in some unexpected ways. Taking subtle cues from motion pictures of old, including "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "Ben-Hur" and other various classics from the 50s and 60s, Tarantino has created the most retro film of 2015. "The Hateful Eight" is not quite an epic, but with its nearly three hour runtime and carefully constructed plot-line, it feels big, maybe too big for its own good. Tarantino once again delivers a solid picture, but one that bogged down by some sluggish pacing and some overlong conversations.

Set some time after the Civil War, eight strangers seek refuge in a haberdashery from a ferocious blizzard. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are accompanied by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) as they make their way to the haberdashery, where they meet Bob (Demián Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). Not too long after they settle in, Ruth begins to suspect that one of the eight people in the room is in cahoots with Domergue and plans to free her from facing justice by hanging.

The film begins on a surprisingly understated note with legendary Western composer Ennio Morricone flawlessly setting the stage with a mysterious, brooding score. It's a brilliant departure from the grand openings of earlier Tarantino efforts, alerting the audience that "The Hateful Eight" will not be "Django Unchained" all over again. The ultra-widescreen shots of snowy Wyoming also add a viscerally cold feeling to this uneasy atmosphere. Within just a few minutes, Tarantino successfully concocts the perfect tone for his mystery, but then characters meet and things slow down a bit.

The script is predictably enticing, but not all that exciting at times. Most of the meet-and-greet conversations of the film's first half drag on. Words and phrases are repeated and drawn out for dramatic emphasis, something which Tarantino handles with mechanical precision, but here he seems to stuff it in as much as he can for his own pleasure. Tarantino-talk is never a bore to hear, although some of the verbal jousting in "The Hateful Eight" could've been sped up or cut short by a few minutes.

Whereas "Django Unchained" had multiple build-ups with wicked payoffs, "The Hateful Eight" limits itself to just a few, leaving more room for the film's dialogue to rack up all the tension it can get before everything goes ballistic. The pace also picks up just in time before the bloodshed begins in the second half. Violence is expectedly over-the-top here, but what makes "The Hateful Eight" Tarantino's most gruesome picture to date is the punctuation of every single bullet hit, punch and stab. It will either be hard to stomach or hard to turn away from depending on who you are.

As with other Tarantino flicks, the cast is perfect. Jackson gives what just might be his best performance since "Pulp Fiction," but the real winners here are Leigh, Goggins, Bichir and Roth. Leigh plays Domergue as every man's worst nightmare of a woman, but she's no demon sent by the Devil to taunt the men who surround her; Leigh also provides a remarkably human side to the despicable Daisy. Goggins, Bichir and Roth are the funnymen of the picture, but each brings their own deviousness to their respected characters.

Early on, the film may begin to feel like a tedious exercise in patience with all its chatter about a Lincoln letter and various wartime stories. Audience members may even feel like they're being coerced by Tarantino into hoping that the violence comes around a whole lot sooner than it does, which is probably the least comfortable feeling for squeamish viewers. However, it's impossible not to be dazzled by the level of detail and commitment put into the film. Tarantino may be swimming in a blood-red pool of self-indulgence this time around, but there's no denying that "The Hateful Eight" earns its place as one of the most striking films of 2015.

(7/10)