Thursday, 20 August 2009
REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds
I'll bank after Pulp Fiction, no-one thought Tarantino's career would go this way. Some OK movies, some misfires and possibly the worst movie ever made by an established director. Kill Bill vol. 1 was the closest he got, to the sheer entertainment and quality of his first two movies. Now he's back with his first real attempt at making a good movie since 2003. And to be clear, its not a masterpiece. Its not even better then Kill Bill really, but what it is is a step in the right direction for Tarantino, a step away from the slight genre over-indulgence and back toward good movies. Because there is some great stuff here and there in the film. Glimpses of a better movie trying to get out, but that's mixed in with some of the trademark Tarantino smugness and bloat.
In the spirit of the methodical, I'll talk about what's good first. The best thing about this movie hands down is both Tarantino's writing and Christophe Waltz portrayal of Hans Landa, or the 'Jewhunter' as he is occasionally called. Truth be told the character belongs in a much better movie, but we'll take what we get and its pretty inspired in places, in particular the terrific opening sequence, full of tension and intelligence both things that vacate the premises for most of the film. The way he holds your attention in that scene and the way the character is put to you gets you very very excited for a film that doesn't ultimately exist. Because once the Americans show up, things become broader and less impressive. Its like the titular basterds exist in in a low-rent WW2 revenge pic thriving on blood, gore and the sense of basking in its own ridiculousness, and Landa exists in a tightly wrought espionage thriller, thriving on tension and double and triple crossings. The movie itself is a bit of both. But I can certainly say that if it weren't for the existence of Landa this movie would be Tarantino's second worst (He'll never make a worse movie then Death Proof) but instead its his third worst, just edging out Kill Bill Vol.2. Other things worth praising, include the relatively successful bar sequence, which like the opening works really well as a pressure cooker scene. And similarly there are some impressive cameo performances from Diane Kruger as a German film star, being infinitely better then I've seen her be before, August Diehl as a particularly perceptive German officer and Daniel Bruhl as the seemingly affable German war hero. Finally I should address the issue of Brad Pitt as the film's lead, which kind of fluctuates between entertaining and caricature. But on the whole he gets a pass I think.
The negatives. The movies plot for one. Even with an open mind you've never seen anything so ridiculous. Tarantino can't keep his love for cinema down and thus there's plentiful discussion of German propagandistic cinema in the thirties. This of course when characters aren't shooting Hitler in the face, scalping dead nazi's or carving swastika's in their foreheads. I'm not one to object against violence in cinema, far from it. But at a certain point its just becomes funny, and if you play that card once to often there's simply an audience disconnect. Which brings me to the more pressing point of, Landa aside, Tarantino failing to fill this film with strong characters something he has always been able to do even in his lesser works. He just hasn't the time for them here and that's a shame. Acting wise the misfires include Eli Roth's Donowitz, who is clearly no actor, Michael Fassbender's British lieutenant and the less said about Mike Myers brief performance the better. Its certainly an entertaining movie, but its a mess both plot wise and structurally and its slight ADD is ultimately what stops it from being great.