Here's to Quentin Tarantino's cussed perversity. The Hateful Eight, his intimate suspenseful western splatter-horror comedy, has been shot at great expense in the long-gone 70 mm format, but the movie itself is set almost entirely in cramped interiors. He's hired Ennio Morricone to score the thing, but don't expect rousing new western themes -- the music is tense and looping. And the first time a white character has a chance to speak that slur that is to Tarantino movies what "breakin' my balls" is to Scorsese's, that white guy -- a walrus-mustachioed bounty hunter embodied by Kurt Russell – politely opts for "black fella" instead.
Tarantino seems determined to upend your every expectation. Here's an octet of gun-toting bastards sitting out a blizzard and striving for politeness despite detesting each other on grounds of race, region and politics. It's as honest a movie as there's ever been about America during the holidays.
But don't think Tarantino is changing on us. Soon everyone is expectorating "nigger" at each other, and after reels of diverting 1870s tough-guy dialogue comedy, with bounty hunters of uncertain allegiance holed up in a Wyoming frontier way station, the movie twists into nastiness beyond anything you might anticipate.
There are new elements: Samuel L. Jackson aces some Miss Marple sleuth work, and there's a moving ballad sung by Jennifer Jason Leigh. (To say more about her haunting, demented turn would spoil Tarantino's plotting.) But the writer/director's hallmarks abound. Here again are chatty killers and the pretzeled-history pleasure of seeing minorities kaboom the brains of their oppressors all over beautifully appointed period film sets. And for all its shock-talk, The Hateful Eight airs painful truths about race in America.