HitFix

Quentin Tarantino takes ‘Hateful Eight’ script out for an all-star live test drive

“Okay, we're drifting away from the dialogue a bit. Let's bring it back. No more co-writing.”

By far, the most exciting element of Saturday night's live read was actually seeing Quentin Tarantino work with his cast as they performed his latest screenplay, “The Hateful Eight,” for a sold-out capacity audience at The Theater at the Ace Hotel.

Depending on where you were seated in the theater, the physical experience ranged from the tolerable to the punishing, with the audience in the upper balcony essentially getting a free sauna as the total lack of air conditioning and the preposterously close rows combined to make the running time of over three-and-a-half hours almost impossible to bear. It is a testament, then, to the compelling nature of Tarantino's script and to the great cast he put together that no one seemed willing to leave before the end, no matter how hard it was to stay seated.

Tarantino explained at the start of the evening that he is still working on the script, and both Bob and Harvey Weinstein were in the audience for last night's event, listening carefully to the audience's reactions, I'm sure. He is currently writing the third draft, and it sounds to me like he plans to make the movie. He promised that the final chapter of the first draft will be reworked completely, making last night's live read the only time an audience will see that version of the ending. That's encouraging, because that wrap-up was by far the weakest part of the experience. It's also encouraging because so much of the rest of the script is already a treat.

The cast last night was a mix of Tarantino regulars and interesting new faces. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Amber Tamblyn, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, James Remar, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Zoe Bell, Denis Menochet, and Dana Gourrier all took the stage at some point during the event, with several actors doubling up for a few roles during a flashback scene. The stage was fairly minimalistic, with only chairs to suggest the various sets. Tarantino brought a blue metal coffee pot that used as a key prop for several scenes, but for the most part, this was just great actors seated, the emphasis on the words.

I'd be curious to know how close this was to the cast Tarantino had in mind when he wrote the film. At this point in his career, he's got to know that he can basically get anyone he wants, especially if he's worked with them before. O.B., the stagecoach driver who is the first character we meet, was played by James Parks, who was in “Kill Bill” with his father, Michael Parks. He's the one who is driving a stagecoach through an increasingly bad winter storm, and he's the one who first spots a black man sitting in the middle of the road, perched atop a saddle that is on top of three dead frozen white men. This is Major Marquis Warren, and I can't think of a role better suited to Sam Jackson's particular mix of menace and cunning. This has got to be his role if the film gets made, and last night, he made a strong case for why he's the one who has to play it.

Like Django, the main character in Tarantino's last film, Major Warren is a bounty hunter, and a former officer on the side of the North during the Civil War. Warren's looking for a ride to someplace he can sit out the blizzard that's rolling in, the same goal that O.B. has for his stagecoach and his passengers. Warren asks for a ride, but it's not up to O.B. He tells Warren that he'll have to talk to the guy who paid for a private trip to Red Rock, the nearest town, and when Warren tries to approach the coach to talk to him, he finds himself at gunpoint.

Turns out John Ruth, another bounty hunter, is transporting Daisy Domergue so she can be tried and, presumably, hanged. Ruth and Warren have very different approaches to their bounty hunter jobs. Warren believes in the “dead” part of the “dead or alive” warrants, while Ruth has earned his nickname as “The Hangman” because he believes in delivering his prisoners intact so they can face justice. Ruth is suspicious of anyone else's motives because Daisy is worth $10,000 to him, but he knows Warren just well enough to decide to give him a ride.

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