Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Daniel Bruhl, Til Schweiger, Diane Kruger
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
There are some who will call Quentin Tarantino's latest film, "Inglourious Basterds," a fantasy film set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II.
There are some who will simply refer to it as an action flick with Brad Pitt.
There may be still others who will simply name "Inglourious Basterds" a war film and call it a day.
Indeed, "Inglourious Basterds" may very well be all of these things and more. "Inglourious Basterds" is, above all, a Quentin Tarantino film.
Pure and simple.
What does this mean for you, the viewer?
This means that "Inglourious Basterds" will put on full exhibition scene after scene of clever, building dialogue followed by the "money shot," an act or moment designed to have made it all worth the wait. It means that "Inglourious Basterds" will serve up scene after scene of stylized violence, dark humor, larger than life characters who aren't baked into cookie cutter personas nor simply portrayed as good or bad.
In "Inglourious Basterds," the good guys can be downright bad and the bad guys, those darn Nazis, can be surprisingly charming.
Oh, and most of all for you moviegoers, the fact that "Inglourious Basterds" is a Quentin Tarantino film means that facts can be easily be replaced by fantasy or, as Tarantino would likely say it, what will play best on the big screen.
Indeed, all of these things are true in "Inglourious Basterds," a film that could likely be considered Tarantino's most mature work to date with the possible exception of a few obvious scenes of self-indulgence and a rather slight ending that wasn't much more than yet another page out of the Tarantino school of cinematic closure which, in turn, has been borrowed from any number of other directors.
More inspired by than based upon Enzo Castellari's 1978 film of the same name, Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" weaves its way through several storylines involving the film's namesake Basterds, a French cinema owner, a Nazi detective, a smitten German soldier and a few other characters along the way.
The film's opening scene, arguably one of its best until it's repeated one too many times, takes place in 1941 and involves Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a Nazi detective whose visit to a farmhouse ends with one surviving Jewish girl, Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) whom we will catch up to in rather short order three years later where she has now taken over a family cinema.
The Inglourious Basterds are a group of Jewish-American soldiers headed by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), a confidently spoken Tennessee Apache whose only request of his men is that they pay off their debt to him of 100 Nazi scalps.
In other words, the Inglourious Basterds are a "take no prisoners" group of soldiers, with only a few exceptions choosing to mercilessly slaughter any Nazi they encounter.
It is in the film's early scenes that Waltz, portraying a Nazi officer who fluently speaks at least four languages, clearly claims "Inglourious Basterds" as his film and, indeed, it is his film. Had Tarantino had the wisdom to focus "Inglourious Basterds" squarely on Col. Landa, this likely would have been his best film to date. Instead, Tarantino tries to cater to Brad Pitt's star power and, as a result, much of "Inglourious Basterds" deflates in both style and substance.
There's nothing particularly wrong with Pitt's performance, though his jaw-jutting, brow-twisting does grow more comical as the film progresses. It's rather that Waltz's performance is simply more satisfying, more complex and more emotionally involving.
Think about it, really. Isn't it odd that in a film about Jewish-American soldiers going head on against the Nazis that a Nazi officer is the most inviting and, dare I say it, sympathetic character?
For some inexplicable reason, Tarantino speeds us through the hero-building antics of the Inglourious Basterds and sets us straight up into 1944 when, you guessed it, our young Shosanna is experiencing a flirtation from a Nazi folk hero, Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), who refers to himself as the "German Sgt. York" for his one-man slaughter of 200 allied soldiers over a three day period. This leads to Zoller becoming the subject of and star in Joseph Goebbels' latest propaganda film, "Nation's Pride," and before we know it the premiere is scheduled for Shosanna's cinema with all the Nazi big wigs scheduled to appear.
See where this is going?
Yes. Yes, you do.
Now then, while this may sound a bit harsh towards Tarantino's most mature film yet, it's worth noting that a bad Tarantino film would still be far better than most of the cinematic fluff filling multiplexes these days.
"Inglourious Basterds" isn't a bad Tarantino film...it's simply not the brilliant film it could have and should have been had Tarantino toned down the self-indulgence, picked up the pace in the middle of the film and either provided more character development to Pitt's Aldo Raine or shifted the focus over to the far more captivating character of Col. Landa.
Eventually, "Inglourious Basterds" will involve a myriad of plots from a variety of sources designed to destroy the Nazi empire in one brilliantly cinematic night of murder and mayhem.
Did you like that Tarantino flourish?
Despite focusing thematically on the Inglourious Basterds, another problem with the film is that the aforementioned Basterds are afforded surprisingly modest screen time, especially in the film's second hour of its 2 1/2 hour run time. Instead, Tarantino dilutes the impact of the film by introducing unnecessary storylines and characters if, as we are to believe, the Inglourious Basterds are truly the bad asses we are led to believe.
While the motivations of the Inglourious Basterds and, of course, Shosanna make sense in the grand scheme of things, Tarantino has never been content to be entirely logical and tosses in a traitorous actress (Diane Kruger), a former film critic turned soldier (Michael Fassbender) and a host of other characters who seem to primarily serve as transitory characters without any true purpose. This results, sadly, in a notable lack of investment in Tarantino's closing scenes despite their being rather impressively pulled off.
While Waltz gives the film's most satisfying performance, several supporting players give strong evidence that they too deserved a bit more screen focus, including Laurent's feisty, vulnerable turn as Shosanna and Daniel Bruhl's winning take on our Nazi hero. Strong performances are also turned in by Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth (who also happens to have directed the "Nation's Pride" film within the film) and even a refreshingly non-lampoonish Mike Myers.
Tech credits are solid across the board, though it should be noted that the scalpings are typically stylized Tarantino shots rather than the hardcore realism of, say, an Eli Roth. The film's original score is most stellar, including a rather brilliant usage of David Bowie's "Putting Out Fire."
While the script for "Inglourious Basterds" is one that Tarantino has been said to have been working on for the past several years, even at 2 1/2 hours the film feels incomplete with characters that feel unknown, storylines that feel undeveloped and other storylines that feel simply unresolved. There are scenes in "Inglourious Basterds" that are true cinematic genius, then there are scenes of mind-numbing mediocrity.
"Inglourious Basterds" is, most disappointingly, a good, surprisingly conventional film that should have been Tarantino's masterpiece.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic