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Inglorious Basterds

August 28, 2009

Let me start by saying, I am a huge Tarantino fan. I adore the man. I own practically all of his movies, kiss the ground he walks on, and thinks he is one of the few living geniuses in the world. If I weren’t trying to keep this blog semi-professional I would have typed his name in all caps and added a few hundred exclamation points. This utter admiration however made it painful for me to admit to myself that Inglorious Basterds was just not on Tarantino level of greatness and to be frank it was subpar. That doesn’t mean it was a bad film—far from it actually, but after the anticipation of waiting five years for what was expected to be gold in Inglorious Basterds, the results felt cheap.

Taking an alternative view of Nazi occupied France from 1941-1944, Tarantino paints a picture of a world where the Nazis’ are not just terrorizers but have fallen victim themselves to the Basterds, a rag tag group of American Jews with a thirst for vengeance and Nazi scalps. A lot of incoherent things happen and unanswered questions are proposed as we ultimately follow the Basterds, whom of the group only 3 are focused on, and a French Jew refugee Shosanna Dreyfus’ (Melanie Laurent) dual but separate plans to sabotage a movie premiere in which all the major Nazi’s will be in attendance.

Normally a master of dialogue, Tarantino knows how to make his characters realistic by having them engage in witty repartee, discussions of pop culture, or just random free for alls. He also has a knack for stylizing gore and violence by tastefully sprinkling it throughout his films to counteract long scenes of dialogue and planning. However both of these elements are missing from Inglorious Basterds. The violence is undoubtedly there in a very brutal and real way as Tarantino focuses on the act of scalping, a process mostly only heard of but never seen. Yet out of a 2 and half hour movie, the violence is few and far between and extremely quick equaling to about a mere 20 minutes all together lacking that special Tarantino-esque charm. The dialogue is definitely some of the weakest ever written by Tarantino. When compared to hilariously intriguing conversations over Madonna’s true meaning of “Like a Virgin” or the small differences between Holland and America’s McDonalds and even a discussion on why a woman should or shouldn’t carry a gun (see below), Inglorious Basterds thwarts viewers of that experience. Instead we are given drab unfocused comparisons of Jews and Germans and something about squirrels and rats, all shallow and practically forgettable conversations.

However Inglorious Basterds use of Hitchcockian (real word?) style filming makes a poignant way of shocking the audience by creating intense anticipation during scenes of interrogation mostly always involving the highlight of the film Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) who’s screen presence is not only terrifying and sinister but charming and a bit endearing. Waltz is a superb standout overshadowing everyone else in the film. The man can make you melt with a smile but also use the same smile to shot daggers of fear. One memorable scene of anticipation comes during the introduction of the Bear Jew (Eli Roth), a baseball bat wielding psychopath who gets his kicks from bashing in heads. When called upon he waits in a dark alley carefully and rhythmically clanking his bat against the walls. The noise seems to go on forever with slow zooms and close ups into the black alley before finally revealing the Bear Jew himself… which turns out to be a major disappointment considering Tarantino has introduced us to much creepier characters—gimp anyone?

Inglorious Basterds isn’t shy in its ode to its war film predecessors such as Bridge on the River Kwai, and the genre of the Spaghetti Western. Most importantly though the film gets its major influence from the 1967 masterpiece The Dirty Dozen. Kill Bill volumes 1 and 2 perfectly explicate that Tarantino knows how to draw from other genres to create his own hodgepodge of art; however Inglorious Basterds makes me question if he’s lost that talent. By introducing the Basterds in the same fashion that The Dirty Dozen are introduced and having the entire sequence of the Basterds infiltrating Nazi quarters resembling The Dirty Dozen’s climax, including set design and costume design, the similarities are more distracting than engaging.

Nevertheless Inglorious Basterds is enjoyable, it’s a film to go out with friends and get a few good laughs and a great theater experience. It’s visually spectacular through its use of bright vibrant colors and that alone kept my eyes glued to the screen. However watching the film was like a receiving a gold card when I expected black (go to 1:00 for the reference). Tarantino usually makes films that can be watched hundreds of times and still be enjoyable yet Inglorious Basterds is good in sequences as I’m pretty certain that future viewings will only result in tons of fast forwarding so I can get to the “good parts.” It’s a rumor that Tarantino finished this movie quicker than any of his other films because he wanted to get it out in time for Cannes Film Festival… rumor or not, it shows.

SEE IT… But Tarantino fanboys, lower your expectations a bit. I call Best Supporting Actor nod for Christoph Waltz at the Academy Awards.

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