In post-Civil War Wyoming, a stagecoach carrying John “the Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is escorting fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock where she will hang for murder. En route they meet bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and the future Sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins). A freezing blizzard forces the four to take shelter at a way station called Minnie’s Haberdashery where they encounter four more strangers: a Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichir), dapper British bloke Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and ex-Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern).
Divided into chapters (like Kill Bill) the story unfolds that John Ruth wants to hang Daisy and collect her $10, 000 reward and nothing, come Hell or high water, is going to stop him! Oh yeah? In the ensuing film’s 2 hour and 47 min (or 3 hours if you see the “Roadshow” version) we see these angry people being stuck with each other for at least three days until the weather clears. Once that happens, John will see Daisy hang and get paid, Chris will be made Sheriff, Joe will be reunited with his mother, Oswaldo (a professional hangman) will apply his trade to Daisy, and Warren will get paid for his three dead body bounty. But something’s not quite right. . .
Almost immediately John suspects a plot to kill him and his stagecoach driver, O.B. (James Parks), just to claim Daisy’s bounty. Suspicious of the riff-raff in the room, both John and Warren question the men, and slowly secrets begin to emerge about their past. In an act of pure coercion, Warren tells Smithers about his dead son and exactly (in gruesome detail) how he died. This starts the body count as one by one, someone in the room is either horribly poisoned or graphically shot. And I do mean graphically shot, after all, this IS a Tarantino movie.
By the end, only a few remain to figure out what the hell just happened, so in a flash-back chapter we see Daisy’s brother, Jody (Channing Tatum), and his story filling in the blanks to the previous bloodbath chapter. By the time we return, we see Daisy, drenched in blood and brains like in some grisly B-splatter movie, trying to arrange a deal with her captors, but will it be enough to save her life?
The art of Tarantino, who wrote and directed, is his complete and total control over the picture. He uses his stock company of actors from his past films, buckets of horrific blood-letting, and his excellence in word-play that sounds so conversational it’s like the actors aren’t reading from any script. At an almost 3 hour butt-numbing run time, there are some lengthy moments of tedium, but overall this movie will not fail Tarantino fans. His signature style is everywhere including (sad to say) his over-use of the “n” word.
Oh, and that cast! Each one is perfection starting with Kurt Russell sporting massive facial hair and those twinkling blue eyes. He nails his John Ruth role with zeal and commitment, as does Jackson (a Tarantino favorite son) who never disappoints. Bruce Dern shows his years of acting prowess in a key scene against Jackson, and Goggins is absolutely ripping as the bigoted smart-mouth Sheriff. But it’s Leigh that really shines here with her performance, especially in the last 15 minutes which is Oscar worthy stuff. Wrap this up with music by famed movie composer Ennio Morricone and Academy Award winner Robert Richardson’s cinematography, and you got yourself one helluva picture!
NOTE: This movie was shot in the rarely used Ultra Wide Panavision 70mm format, like Ben-Hur and Mutiny on the Bounty did, so when you see it in the theaters it’ll be presented in a letterboxed (2:76 aspect ratio) size, much like widescreen letterbox DVD’s shown on your home TV.
The killers, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger), delight as they host the dinner party with the victim’s parents, friends, fiancée, and housemaster, Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart) all in attendance. In this cramped little room, all the characters wonder aloud what is taking David (the dead kid in the trunk) so long? Brandon, the egotistical showman, even drops hints about dead David while Phillip starts to panic and unravel as Rupert slowly starts to piece things together though dropped clues and suspects foul play.
The end of the film has Rupert finding out about David, but is his life in danger as well? As the credits roll, you have to decide (just like in the stage play) what happens next. Based on Patrick Hamilton’s stage play, this adaption by Arthur Laurents (who wrote mainly musicals like West Side Story and Gypsy) was perfect; Hitchcock building on the script with his signature style and hiring an impeccable cast.
If you notice homosexual overtones throughout the film, you wouldn’t be off-base. For 1940 audience’s that subject was rather touchy, but gay writer Laurents teased it in the movie that Shaw and Morgan were more than just best friends, if you know what I mean. In real life, Farley Granger’s bisexuality was a well-kept Hollywood secret.