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The Civil War didn’t end at Appomattox, but still rages in the hearts and minds of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” a salty hothouse whodunit that owes as much to Agatha Christie as it does to Anthony Mann.Though Tarantino toys with many of the lawless frontier genre’s classic tropes, it’s arguable whether this deliciously long-winded mystery — “molasses-like,” to use his own term — qualifies as a Western at all.
There’s no denying he’s been down this road before, whether it was reheating the spaghetti Western to such spectacular effect in “Django Unchained” or exploiting the distrust among eight other near-strangers in “Reservoir Dogs” at the outset of his career.
Familiarity aside, however, the movie absolutely delivers on the sheer moment-to-moment pleasures fans have come to expect, from dynamite dialogue to powder-keg confrontations.
A roundup of old faces and new, thrown together in Minnie’s Haberdashery — a rustic watering hole that serves as these varmints’ only shelter from an encroaching storm — the film assembles eight ruffians in the middle of Wyoming, including a reunion of Mssrs.
Blonde (Michael Madsen) and Orange (Tim Roth), who appear here as a black-hat cowboy and a dandy British hangman, respectively.
Underscoring his commitment to celluloid, the director dusted off the Ultra Panavision 70 format used on such Cinerama epics as “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and “How the West Was Won,” but put those vintage lenses to curious use, all but ignoring the outdoor vistas (a victim of Jackson’s scenery chewing, no doubt) in order to achieve a more claustrophobic cabin-fever dynamic.
Still, the film opens atmospherically enough, first with a striking pre-credits placeholder — an “Overture” card that depicts a six-horse stagecoach racing from right to left in silhouette against a bold red screen — before cutting to a long shot of the same vehicle riding into frame as a snow-covered cross looms in the foreground.
Tarantino’s use of music, like his choice of shooting formats, marks a dramatic break from the rest of his oeuvre, in which the control-freak director has creatively recycled existing songs and score, while giving them such currency that they may as well have been written for him.
Joining them are two bounty hunters who cross paths in the snow, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Maj. Jackson), the former tasked with escorting his quarry, a feral lady outlaw named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the gallows in Red Rock.
En route, they encounter the town’s replacement sheriff, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), while waiting ahead at Minnie’s are a standoffish Mexican (Demian Bichir) and surly rebel general (Bruce Dern). 9, or the elephant in the room: namely, the palpable disdain broiling between this handful of ex-Confederate racists and Jackson’s African-American former Union officer, who wields a letter from Abraham Lincoln as skillfully as he does his six-shooter.