Samuel L. Jackson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Major Marquis Warren in The Hateful Eight.
Samuel L. Jackson is the first of the titular eight that we meet as he sits on a lonely road in the snow on top of three frozen bodies. Jackson is of course a mainstay of the films of Quentin Tarantino appearing in all except one and a half of his films, though a few of these appearances are mere cameos. This is a substantial role though as Major Warren is a bounty hunter who we already know has slain three men, who were at least bad enough to be worth some amount of money. In just the most general sense of the part, Jackson is already perfectly cast as the badass bounty hunter, since few do that as well as Jackson does. This should not be hand waved as a given though, as he did formerly in his original collaboration with Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, Jackson commands a definite presence, and the fact that his character is dangerous certainly is a given. We are only given a brief moment though with Marquis as he has to inquire about a way to get through the snow towards shelter, after losing his own horse, and with that we meet the next two members of the titular eight including a fellow bounty hunter.
Kurt Russell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying John Ruth "The Hangman" in The Hateful Eight.
Walton Goggins did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sheriff Chris Mannix in The Hateful Eight.
Now a spoiler warning should be noted just in case. The Hateful Eight could have been called the deceitful Eight as much of the film is the lies of appearances, and the lies people tell. We get the first impression of Mannix, John Ruth, and Major Warren, but in a way we are warned from the start about this by Ruth as he is constantly questioning everyone, even Major Warren who seems like an obvious ally. Now the first impression seems a comfortable enough one to make and all three actors certainly help to try to make us accept them. Jackson and Russell are both the imposing forces they should be. Russell carrying the right casual intensity as John Ruth goes about his own business of protecting his interests, while Jackson carries it in a more direct fashion, though understated, yet never in question. Jackson knows how to hold a scene like few others. On the other hand Goggins is consistently enjoyable in his delivery of Mannix's perhaps overeager sentiments. One would be wrong to believe that this is the truth with any of them, and that is not to say that this is even them lying, yet. None of them are a simple archetype which is brilliantly revealed by each of these performances.
Now starting with Russell, who should seem simple enough as a cool hero channeling John Wayne, what more could there be to him? Well as we soon see Ruth is very quick to discipline his captive Daisy, as he does not hesitate to physically assault her whenever she makes an insult at his expense or even at Major Warren's. Russell actually plays these scenes in a purposefully unappealing way, as it is not a direct rage he portrays when Ruth hits Daisy, but rather he shows that Ruth does enjoy it a bit. Now this is not quite as damning as it could be considering the extreme nature of Daisy's racism as well as the fact that she's a murderer, however Ruth's status as a great hero is instantly challenged as Russell shows a definite personal pleasure in the suffering he makes Daisy endure. The certain strip down of Ruth continues though as Ruth tries to make himself safe, which involves trusting absolutely no one, which is smart considering they end up in a cabin of strangers, though he does not do this in the most intelligent way. Although Russell keeps a definite confidence most of the time, there are moments where he demands something related to his paranoia, there is a desperation in the man that alludes to a weakness in him.
Now with Jackson it's rather interesting that he's as many of his characters usually are, which is that he's cool and confident even when he's talking about killing people. Jackson indeed pulls off the cool killer to the point that we in fact like him, rather than hate for technically a callousness towards life, however even this idea is played with by Jackson's performance. When it is stated that Major Warren's war record included so many killings that he seemed more interested in killing than any cause, Jackson portrays absolutely no denial in Warren in related to this. In fact when asked about the people he's killed, Jackson carries a certain pride when speaking about it, and is not even hesitate in it. Again Jackson does have that cool that let's him get away with it, but he goes even further to almost cause a bit of discomfort for us when wholly accepting Warren. A pivotal moment revolves around Jackson confronting one of the strangers a Confederate General Smithers (Dern), a general who had killed surrendering black soldiers. To goad Smithers into doing something rash Warren relates a story of not only killing the General's son, but also raping the man. The scene is no simple revenge moment, not only because of Dern giving so much humanity in his reaction, but also the vicious, though earned, hatred that Jackson brings to it. Jackson portrays it that Warren absolutely relished in the act, though it very well might have been partially made up to get the General to strike first.
Now how about Chris Mannix, what else does he have to show for himself. Well this is interesting as Mannix, despite seeming like he might not exactly be genius, actually is the one who reveals much of the truth relating to Major Warren's deeds. Goggins is terrific as he reveals the needed incisiveness in Mannix's words as he speaks about Warren's killing of men. What Goggins does is also challenging in a very effective way, in that Mannix is a racist yet a straw man he is not, thanks in part due to Goggins's performance. What's so special about what Goggins manages to do is in a way suggests, even though it certainly never stated, that the racism of Mannix is mostly something ingrained. It is never something that Goggins gives an earnestness to, not that Mannix does not believe his words, but when such words come from his mouth it is made often like a recitation by Mannix, as though he is repeating what he's heard his whole life. Goggins only reinforces this idea through giving a strong passion still in Mannix when he talks about the lives lost at Warren's hands, as well as when he tries to give an idea of just trying to find a certain respect in defeat. Goggins is excellent as he is able to actually almost force you to see where Mannix is coming from, since there is only a genuine empathy in his words when he speaks of the dead including the Union soldiers that were killed, accidentally, as well from a fire started by Warren.
I love how all three actors go so far past the first impressions of the character revealing far more complicated men then you might expect from the outset. Now even though there might be many lies told in the story the one man we seem to know is telling the truth is John Ruth. Even this is used to show more of the man when it is revealed that Major Warren has been lying the whole time about having received a personal letter by Abraham Lincoln. The earlier scene where this was brought up Russell brought out a considerable warmth in his examination of the letter, presenting Ruth as overjoyed by this truth. This makes it all the more disconcerting when it is said to be false, and Russell is actually rather heartbreaking by once again revealing a vulnerable side to Ruth, as this break of trust is made devastating by Russell as though Ruth has lost some solace since one of the men he thought he could trust had been lying to him the whole time. It should also be noted that Jackson is equally good in the moment because he so bluntly states the truth behind Warren's lie, to the point you completely understand why he would have lied. Unfortunately everything only turns against Ruth more as he is poisoned through some tainted coffee. This scene is brilliantly performed by Russell as he brings such a combination of rage and pain in Ruth's final screams. My favorite moment of the scene though is when his captive finally has a gun drawn on him. Russell again is surprisingly moving through his hangdog expression as though Ruth in the moment realizes not only that he's finished but also perhaps thinking about where his abuses of Daisy have left him.
This leaves us with Warren obviously, and in turn gets Jackson a perfect Hercule Poirot moment as he dresses down one of the stranger's stories. Jackson unquestionably owns the moment as he should, and its just so captivating to watch him uncover the mystery as well as delivering some quick justice. Warren though is not alone against Daisy and her co-conspirators as he finds an unlikely ally in Mannix. Now this does seem impossible, it shouldn't work, but it does. Now the key behind Goggins's portrayal of Mannix is that he never lies, he's a man who always is seeking the truth, and will break down a lie if he hears it. Now even though the "hee-haw" side is there, it's not facade, rather Goggins finds Mannix as a measured man who will be more dour if he's speaking words he believes in but is just well a rather jolly chap by nature. Goggins is fabulous in the way he calls upon the certain charm of Mannix. Not only is it funny, but it also shows Mannix doing his best to try to disarm people in some way. One of my favorite moments of his performance, which saying something (something I must say for many performances in this category this year), is in his argument with Ruth and Warren which gets so heated that Warren pulls his gun on Mannix. Goggins is comedic gold as he switches gears, and apologizes so sweetly for talking politics. Goggins importantly establishes that there is never a hate in his heart. He speaks racist words in a way that does not reveal the true man, and it is only when life is concerned that he brings out real vigor to his words. Goggins, even in a moment where he's about to shoot someone, brings the greater emphasis on the man he's avenging. Goggins is a delight when shooting breaks out, because again he suggests a man out of his element really, as he just seems to be winging it. The fact that the consistent quality Goggins focuses upon is decency, despite not sugar coating his uses of racial epithets, he makes the alliance between Warren and Mannix believable. The best part is both actors go past this, as they manage to even develop a bit of a friendship. Both Jackson and Goggins have such marvelous chemistry that this is completely convincing. Not even much is said yet it is never questioned as the two suggest in their glances really an understanding and mutual respect between the two. The two manage to make their final scene together so poignant as the two men of opposing armies, sit together alone with no interference of the outside world, and just quietly enjoy what might be one their last moments, side by side. I don't want to diminish Russell's work as he unfortunately must exit early as well as plays the one man with nothing to hide, yet finds something remarkable in revealing perhaps too much of who the "badass" bounty hunter really is. Jackson and Goggins not only create such memorable characters they also have a challenge, a seemingly unfeasible one, yet they pull it off to bring about such a powerful conclusion.