Inglorious Basterds, 2009
Dir: Quentin Tarantino
August 26, 2009
I must say that, while the proud tradition of really annoying Tarantino films flows strongly, Inglourious Basterds might be the most subdued and mature film he has made. You would not think that on the title of the film, or the trailer, but it is. A quick reflection after watching this will also probably remind you that, more than anything, Tarantino wants to be a writer, and that directing his own scripts is just something that he has to do. The lengthy dialogues, most of them in either German or French (it's basically a foreign language film) work nicely with the sporadic Tarantinoesque moments. Most people looking for a Pulp Fiction (1994) or a Kill Bill ('03 or '04) will probably be disappointed, because frankly, this has the feeling of a very European film.
It's funny that my last film was a Godard, because this film, despite the others having much in debt to French New Wave as well, is probably the biggest homage to him in the Tarantino canon. Even as the credits role, "A Band Apart," Tarantino's production company, proudly displays his affection for Godard. It also has a pays is debts to Spaghetti-Westerns and 70s B-movies, as all his films do, but you can't get away from the New Wave spirit that drives most of the film, which centers around the dialogue. A lieutenant in the US army, Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), puts together a group of Jewish-American soldiers, in addition to some European Nazi haters, to go behind enemy lines and kill as many Nazis as possible. A parallel story line of revenge runs along this, of a young Jewish French girl (Mélanie Laurent) who, after escaping a "Jew Hunter" Nazi (Christoph Waltz) earlier in the film, finds the opportunity for her vengeance arrive when the Nazi high command decides to hold the exclusive premiere of a German propaganda film at her Paris cinema. And vengeance is had because all the big wigs show up.
There is some great acting, especially Waltz, who steals every scene he is in and is one cool customer. His opportunistic waffen-SS officer is always looking for something and sniffing it out, whether it's Jews hiding under the floor boards or a way to better his predicament. There are a lot of silly parts in the film, most of them pertaining to real people, like Hitler and Goebbels, but also a shadowy, curmudgeonly Churchill in one scene, as well as a wonky Mike Myers playing a British general as if he were a subdued Austin Powers. It kinda works. Eli Roth is way over the top as the Boston-born "Bear Jew," who wields a baseball bat to club Nazi skulls. His intensity in the final part of the film, however, is pretty impressive for a guy that is most definitely not an actor.
What Tarantino does well is create tension through dialogue, and this is best exemplified in the bar scene which last for about fifteen minutes, most of which is a heated exchange, full of subtle looks and empty space which only help enhance the conversations taking place. Of course, after an intense standoff where people point guns at each others nuts, the scene explodes. Where Tarantino has problems stem from the same problem that I have with Godard. Get the text off the screen. It is not cool. His use of flashbacks is random and uneven, and some of the Basterds get lost by the wayside. There was nothing particularly striking about the photography; slo-mo works sometimes (it's not 300 at least), a few nice wide shots, but that's not Tarantino's forte, so it's really pointless to talk about.
It's kind of incredible that Tarantino has basically reworked his "revenge saga" a bunch of different times. Is he still that interested in it? I guess so. Maybe it just allows him to make a film that another plot device wouldn't. His femme fatale stories (Jackie Brown (1997) and Kill Bill) tie in nicely to make my point (for the Laurent character anyway). The funniest part of the whole thing was definitely leaving the theater and hearing dumb asses say, "Didn't Hitler die in the bunker? That was stupid." But isn't Hitler getting pumped full of lead by a extremely hateful Jew more satisfying? The revenge fantasy was fun. Good, not great. Better than Death Proof (2007), at least (probably Kill Bill too).