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Monday, August 24, 2009

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009) - Quentin Tarantino

Whenever Quentin Tarantino releases a film, the nerd world goes hay-wire. Some fanboys are so inherently loyal to the man that no matter how bad a film he releases, they will sing it’s praises, even if they have no idea as to why they’re praising it. To be honest, I haven’t really liked a Tarantino film since Jackie Brown. The films he released before this were classics. The films after Jackie Brown are far from classics. But the Tarantino dream project that is Inglorious Basterds finally hits the screens after over a decade of speculation. Worth the wait?

France. 1944. The war is going badly for the Germans. D-Day is coming. For some reason that is never explained, Lt. Aldo Raine has gathered eight Jewish-American soldiers to undertake a mission in Nazi-occupied France. They are to kill, and scalp one hundred Nazi soldiers. The strategic value of this mission is moot. It makes for pure pulp story-telling. Meanwhile, a young Jewish-French girl named Shoshanna, who escaped certain death at the hands of the Jew-hunter Col. Hans Landa has come into possession of a cinema in Paris. It is here that she and the Basterds will cross paths on the night of the premiere of Josef Goebbels’ latest propaganda film, Nation’s Pride. A night that could provide the revenge Soshanna has sought for the murder of her family and a prime opportunity for the Basterds to end the war.

The name Inglorious Basterds has been bandied about Hollywood for well over a decade. It was Tarantino’s oft-mentioned dream project, and sounded like something only the nerdiest of film fans could hope to see. After all this time, it’s a little bit of an anti-climax to see Inglorious Basterds. It’s not a bad film, don’t get me wrong. It’s very enjoyable. But like Avatar is in danger of suffering come December, the film never lives up to the hype. Inglorious Basterds after all has a number of incredibly large flaws. And a great many of them are down to the casting.

Firstly, Eli Roth. I know he and Tarantino are friends. That’s great, and good for them. But casting as Donny Donowitz, the Bear Jew was a bad mistake. The guy cannot act in any way. Every line he delivers is worse than primary-school nativity play over-acting. It is a prime example of why directors cast their characters and don’t just pick randomers on the street to flesh out their characters. Secondly, and most damningly, Brad Pitt. For some reason, as the film progresses, Pitt just plays Aldo Raine as Marlon Brando in the Godfather, but drunk and lairy. It’s less a performance than a series of bad acting decisions strung together with a ludicrous southern accent. However, having said that, he does have the best line in the film. One word. Which had the entire audience doubled-over with laughter. So fair dues to him for that. And finally, Mike Myers. What in the name of all that is good and pure was Quentin Tarantino thinking when he cast Myers as a British general. It’s hands-down the worst piece of out-of-place casting I’ve ever seen. You literally expect Myers to burst into Austin Powers mode at any moment he’s on screen. It’s shockingly bad and something I wish I could purge from my memory.

Having said all that, the rest of the cast is quite excellent. The entire film is stolen by Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa. He’s the embodiment of grinning menace. A sort of Cheshire cat with a luger and a hatred for enemies of the state. His performance is fantastic, creepy and the best thing in the film. Also well worth mentioning are Michael Fassbender as the British soldier, Archie Hilcox, Diane Kruger as German actress and spy, Bridget Von Hammersmark and Mélanie Laurent as Shoshanna Dreyfuss. When these characters are on-screen it takes the stink off the performances of those listed above.

Tarantino’s script is both excellent, and a problem at the same time. When it’s good, it’s very, very, very good. When it’s bad it’s either dull or baffling. The film is split into chapters. Some work, some don’t. The opening chapter, Once Upon A Time In Nazi-Occupied France is a masterpiece in tension and drama. It’s Tarantino at his best. No obscure pop-culture ramblings. Just unbelievable tension, reminiscent of any of the great moments in Pulp Fiction. It’s stunningly good. And then you have comedy moments that fall flat on their faces. You’ve the Basterds. I sincerely hope you’re not going to see these guys kick-ass. It doesn’t happen. In fact, most of them appear for a moment on screen and aren’t heard of again. It’s a shame. I had half-hoped for a Dirty Dozen-esque men on a mission type film done by Tarantino. That’s the fanboy in me struggling to break free. But this doesn’t happen. Like the last few of Tarantino’s films (and the next few if IMDB is to be believed), this is a female-revenge movie primarily. And while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s getting a bit predictable at this stage.

So after all this waiting, Inglorious Basterds is great, but at the same time, a disappointment for a number of reasons. Ludicrous casting, a sometimes genius, sometimes weak script, and an ending that is so far beyond ridiculous that you just buy it for what it is all adds up to an enjoyable if not classic experience. You get the feeling the film is slightly rushed. It starts so well, has some fantastic scenes that merely involve characters talking to each other and the tension is thick. But it’s let-down by the fact that Tarantino is never quite reigned-in. It happened to a terrible degree with George Lucas and Star Wars. Thankfully, though, Quentin Tarantino can actually write something half-decent. And despite how good the film is, it’s just disappointing to think of what Inglorious Basterds could have been.



Aidan said...

I actually didn't mind Mike Myers, but then I had been set up for it so it wasn't a surprise. The only really glaring casting problem was Eli Roth, who was just dreadful.

Spoiler below..

As I texted... Jackie Brown good, and then they shot off Hitler's face. I think I may go to see it again during the week and reassess.

Peter Slattery said...

Yeah, the historic revisionism at the end is a little ludicrous. I was with Tarantino for a great deal of the film and then that happened and he lost me. Opening scene is unbelievably good. And I really loved the basement scene too.