Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino.
This is boldly advertised as the 8th film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino. For that to work, we're considering the two volumes of Kill Bill as one movie so we can count the extended version of Death Proof. I only saw the Grindhouse cut of Death Proof so I don't feel like a QT completist. Someday I'll get there.
This movie is a polarizing experience. It features the worst and best tendencies he has. I have no problem with the long running time or the cartoonish violence. QT seems to be challenging the audience by not providing anyone likeable to side with.
While QT had extended to operatic heights with Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, he's shrunken his canvas here to be more like Reservoir Dogs: The Western. Filmed in 70mm, it's gorgeous to look at. We can enjoy the broad, snowy landscapes of Wyoming as a stagecoach tries to outrun an oncoming blizzard. We first meet Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a Union soldier turned bounty hunter, who has put himself and three dead bounties in the path of the stagecoach. He first meets the driver O.B. (James Parks) and then the passengers - fellow bounty hunter and Union veteran John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner, a murderer named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Both men want to get to Red Rock to collect their bounties, Ruth on his live one and Warren on his dead ones.
Further down the road, they come across the equally stranded Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a Confederate vet who's on his way to Red Rock to be the new sheriff. The blizzard comes too quickly so they hole up at Minnie's Haberdashery, essentially a large cabin store being run by Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir) while Minnie's away. Also present are cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Confederate general Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), and British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), employed at Red Rock. These hateful eight (plus nice guy O.B.) are trapped under one roof to wait out the storm, and as Ruth surveys the place, he quickly assumes that one of these men is lying about his identity, and that he's really in cahoots with Daisy to save her.
John Ruth might be the one we could root for, with his John Wayne inflection and clear-eyed sense of justice, except he beats on the helpless Daisy under the slightest provocations.
Major Warren could be the one, but when he spins a tale of what he did to a helpless prisoner of his own, it's easy for sympathies to fade.
Daisy? She copes by wearing her broken-toothed smile as a feral mask, but it might have helped if the movie ever explained exactly who she'd killed and why. I actually felt bad for her at the end, and I don't know if that was QT's intention.
Minnie's Haberdashery serves as a microcosm of American society then and now. Then, it's the 1870's, and you have north and south, black and white, male and female trying to figure out what next. I also really admired QT's directing job here. We're aware at (almost) all times where everyone is in the cabin, even as the story needs to hop from this conversation to that. The tension increases and mounts, and it starts to feel more like John Carpenter's The Thing than anything else before it explodes in its gory, nasty finale.
This is one where I think I might like it more on a second viewing, but I can't say it's in my top half of favorites from the director. I think deep down he knows it'll be this way for most people. There's no cheer-worthy scene like Nazis getting killed in Basterds, slavers getting killed in Django, Butch saving Marcellus in Pulp Fiction, or even Mr. Orange shooting Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. These are all brutish sorts, and I didn't feel like the ending had the payoff he might have been going for.