Saturday, August 15, 2009

Film review: Inglourious Basterds

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Christoph Waltz
Country: USA
Year: 2009

What’s that you say: a Quentin Tarantino-directed World War II film about a Dirty Dozen-esque troupe of Jewish American soldiers behind enemy lines with the sole purpose of killing Nazis? As basic movie premises go it’s hard to imagine a bigger fanboy wet dream really, but be careful what you wish for, because you might not get it. Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is the least disciplined and most wildly uneven of his seven features to date.

Hardly one to dwell on his detractors, here the film geek’s filmmaker betrays what should be his own directorial maturing process and indulges his worst excesses. And while the big chin might be likened in many quarters as The Weinstein Company’s Mickey Mouse; the difference remains that Mickey didn’t have an ego and tens of millions of dollars at his direct disposal. Most disappointingly of all, Inglourious Basterds glaringly lacks for consistent inspiration.

Rather than the action movie about a crack(pot) team of scalping Basterds led by Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine, Tarantino has delivered a series of vignettes, padded by lots of talking with quintessential QT-patter and punctuated by increasingly violent exclamation marks. It is a farcical fairy tale set in Nazi-occupied France where the history books have been gleefully thrown on the pyre so as to enact a roaring rampage of revenge. Disturbingly though, Inglourious Basterds plays uncomfortably well as a 160-minute murder fantasy in which human life means very little in this post-Gitmo world.

Because no filmmaker loses their gifts overnight Tarantino still manages to cram some vintage stuff into his bloated runtime (you’d hope so, right?). The opening homage to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West, complete with Ennio Morriocone score to a homestead invasion, fused with classic Tarantino cat and mouse dialogue play is as good as any of the writer-director’s greatest hits. The scene excruciatingly drip-drops the tension before climaxing with exactly the execution we’ve come to expect of his violent poetics.

It is also during this opening sequence that Tarantino unleashes his secret weapon, German actor Christoph Waltz as ‘the Jew Hunter’ SS Colonel Hans Landa. Waltz steals every single scene in which he delivers his cunning dialogue in multiple languages, playing pitch perfectly for the uncertain bedfellows of terror and comedy. Where Waltz excels Pitt fails in a grimacing and gurning in a caricaturing that irritates more than it delights.

Because it’s an ensemble we could go on to mention the other standouts like Michael Fassbender and Mélanie Laurent, but it’s hard to care when the director himself barely treats his protagonists as anything more than a collection of names and faces. All the easier to kill one supposes. Tarantino has not lost any of his visual flare nor his talent with language, but here finds his storytelling lacking in restraint to his film’s detriment. There’s entertainment to be had in this escapist fantasy, but be warned, these are not the Basterds you’re looking for.


action movies said...

Inglorious Bastards is a great movie! super-funny dialogs, unguessable plot and really good almost-anonymous foreign actors! a must see movie.