[Spoilers: I discuss the setup of the movie, and some of the thematic elements, but no major plot developments are revealed]
Over the last weekend I had the opportunity to re-watch Quentin Tarantino’s most recent movie. It’s the story of Wild West bounty hunter John Ruth (played by Kurt Russell) who is on his way to the town of Red Rock to turn in a wanted gangster he’s captured, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She’s chained to his wrist, and at great risk to himself he intends to bring her in alive. It’s a harsh Wyoming winter, however, and he won’t make it to Red Rock before a blizzard catches him, so he has to make a stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery on the way to shelter for a few days until the bad weather passes. On the way there he picks up a few unexpected guests, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson), another bounty hunter with some dead bounties to turn in, and a man who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock.
At the haberdashery are a host of other unexpected characters. John knows Daisy’s gang will try to get her back, and takes outlandish precautions to try protect himself from the other guests, in case they aren’t who they say they are. Meanwhile Major Warren, who knows the haberdashery, becomes suspicious when several details don’t seem to add up and Minnie herself is not there.
I got the sense that this is what Tarantino would write if he were writing a stage play: almost all of the action is centred around two enclosed locations, and the drama comes from watching the interactions between the individual characters, which might be as obvious as a fist fight or as subtle as a wry glance. It’s tough to make the landscape of a story shift and grow so dramatically in a single space, but this movie shows how it’s done.
While it wouldn’t be a Tarantino film without a few dozen instances of crude and graphic violence, the genius in the film is the dialogue and how the setting adds to the tension. I saw a review on YouTube that said this movie is very much a story about storytelling, and I agree with that. Everyone has a story to tell in this movie, and it’s impossible to know who is telling the truth. Everyone is an unreliable narrator. But whether each listener believes what they hear or not ultimately determines who will live and who will die.
This story for me demonstrates in its purest form what makes for an interesting tale: the human drama. Just people being with other people, and all the affections, suspicions, alliances and betrayals that come with that.