If Quentin Tarantino has achieved anything in his love letters to the spaghetti western genre, it’s his notable subtraction of the noodles from aforementioned dish, leaving decadent swaths of scarlet marinara sauce to be flung about the screen as blazing bullets rock various characters to their bones, sending blood all over the place in quantities that defy physics or biology. He did it with Django, and he does it again with The Hateful Eight, a somber, simmering snow opera that fell just south of winning me over entirely. Don’t get me wrong: there’s much merit to be found here, and as usual QT has a solid gold ear for dialogue that is as pleasing to the ear as Ennio Morricone’s unusually restrained, palm sweating score. He also shows his uncanny knack for chasing awesome actors out of the woodwork and casting them in his films. In his attempts to resurrect 70mm panavision he has achieved undisputed success. I’m also a sucker for both Agatha Christie style mysteries and snowbound locations (and what locations!!), both of which are in abundance here. And yet.. something just didn’t quite click for me, story wise. Perhaps it’s the fact that trailers had worked my imagination up to imposible heights of intrigue that couldn’t be brought to the table with this tale. In that regard, I suppose it’s my own fault. In any case, the eventual revelations just didn’t feel as profound and fitting after having sat through the endless, tantalizing set up. But oh, what a set up. QT deliberately marinates his characters in a stew of unease and malcontent, each player a grizzled picture of vague evil intent, firing missiles of distrust and loathing at one another until the ill will is as thick as the snow drifts they fight through. In the throes of a gathering blizzard, bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell in a sly nod of the head to beloved R.J. Macready, only saltier and far meaner) leads shackled prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh in the best performance of the film) to the town of Red Rock, to be hung. Along the way, and with much chatter, he picks up two stragglers: pissy fellow hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L.Jackson) and one Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). They arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, an oasis in the sea of winter, where four other undesirables have already shacked up in refuge: Owaldo Mobrey (Tim Roth earns his keep and then some) a self proclaimed hangman with some serious pep in his step, crusty confederate Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir is restrained comic perfection) and dangerous looking cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen, that gravel voiced wildcat, is always awesome). They all hunker down to ride out the storm and quickly begin to realize that one or more amongst them isn’t who they say they are, and there’s devilry afoot. Sound intriguing? It did to me too, and I can’t say much about what exactly let me down without giving stuff away, but it just felt like such a pedestrian knockoff of a second act after the absolute slow burning joy of a guessing game which preceded it. Maybe it’s a bit like a Christmas present: you spend months in a giddy daze wondering what you’ll get, you get there christmas morning and there your present is: shiny, gleaming and filled with endless possibility, but unmistakably shaped by your specific anticipation of what lays within. You open your present… and there it is, mystery evaporated, no longer a present but an actual object, or in this case a story that you must wrestle with to appease the lingering wonder of what you expected, as opposed to what you got. I know it’s too much to expect every film to be that perfect christmas present that is as satisfying wrapped as unwrapped, but with QT’s stuff I feel I always act that way a bit, having pictured my definitive version of the films before having seen them, and feelng somewhat underwhelmed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it: It’s chock full of macabre surprises, earnest performances and expectedly nasty violence. Jennifer Jason Leigh owns as Daisy, a frothing feral beast. Leigh has no shortage of courage in taking on courageous, unflattering roles, and she dives right into this one with fists and teeth clenched, eyes narrowed and a steely will to survive. It’s truly a blessing to see her on the big screen again and I hope to see more in the future. There’s one casting decision which almost ruined the last act for me. I won’t spoil it here but the ‘actor’ in question is so unbelievably untalented and sticks out like ten sore thumbs in his ineptitude, really making me wonder about QT’s sanity. The rest of the cast makes up for it in spades though, particularly Madsen, Roth and Russell. Goggins also gets loads to do and does it with grinning flair that would make Boyd Crowder proud. The cinematography by legendary Robert Richardson is staggeringly beautiful. The wintry Vistas sweep by in splendor, eventually moving inward to the firelit cabin where everything has a burnished, lived-in texture that’s transfixing to look at. If only the story had the weight and impact I was expecting, I could have given this glowing accolades, but there’s always next time. Gorgeous Tarantino outing with a cast that chomps at the bit relentlessly, and although it ultimately falls short, it’s quite the piece of cinema all the same.