Inglourious Basterds, Gloriously Meh
Righteous bludgeoning is the act of pummeling your enemy most severely for unmistakably justifiable reasons. When a gruff man with a scar across his neck declares that he expects each of his Jewish American “Basterds” owes him 100 Nazi scalps, you kind of expect to see unbridled acts of righteous bludgeoning. Cause, you know, nothing can be more unmistakably justified than killing people who are regarded as the most sadistic and cruel butchers in the history of human kind. To be fair, there is bludgeoning in Inglourious Basterds and it is certainly righteous. But, and it might seem slightly evil for me to say such a thing, I really wanted more. The movie I was promised, according the trailers, was a violent romp of Nazi butchering, the ultimate revenging wet dream. Instead, Quentin Tarantino gives us something a bit more subtle. Well, as subtle as Tarantino goes anyway. The violence is actually quite sparse and used to punctuate scenes. If you’re looking for some low brow Nazi murder, death, kill movie, Inglourious Basterds is not that film. If you’re looking for, um, not a movie full of Nazi death porn, this is that film!
Christoph Waltz won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Col. Hans Landa, the “Jew Hunter.” It is well deserved. His masterful performance, by far, outshines the film. Every scene he’s in is an uncomfortable delight. It’s difficult to resist being charmed by this dogged Nazi investigator, but charmed you will be.
Mélanie Laurent plays the only character I honestly gave two shits about, Shosanna Dreyfus, which is why her photos is posted above. She is a French Jew who narrowly survives the butchering of her family and now lives in Paris under an assumed name. She owns a small theater which soon becomes the focus of the Basterds’ plot to take out the Nazi high command. I wanted to see more of Shosanna’s story, how she managed to get to Paris, how she met her lover Marcel. The glimpses that we are treated to are quite compelling. There’s more story there. But sadly, it’s a brief flirtation.
The opening scene takes place on Perrier LaPadite’s farm. Landa shows up to determine whether or not the LaPedites are hiding Jews. The conversation between Landa and Perrier LaPadite, played by Denis Menochet, is uncomfortably long and full of building tension. It’s here that Waltz truly shines. And I think it’s one of the best things I’ve seen from a Tarantino film.
The movie is broken into chapters, much like Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs. Unlike those previous film, Basterds doesn’t jump around which chronology. We’re given a surprisingly linear narrative. Unfortunately, when seen in a linear progression, this chapter format doesn’t hang together as well as Tarantino’s previous offerings. Each chapter works well enough on its own. I think the very first scene is some of Tarantino’s best work. But when the other chapters aren’t as strong, you kind of wish Tarantino focused his energies on telling one story rather than bits and pieces of multiple stories.
Tarantino has said that he wanted Basterds to be his “men-on-a-mission” movie. But it’s not, really. Most of the mission, the killing Nazi mission, occurs off screen. It’s whispered amongst the troops, but we hardly get much of the mission. There’s that interrogation scene in the middle of the forest that’s shown in the trailers and there’s the final scene and that’s pretty much it.
The scene where the Basterds meet up with a British-film-critic-turned-spy so they can rendezvous with their double agent, actress Bridget von Hammersmark portrayed by Diane Kruger, almost seems like an excuse to replay the final confrontation in Reservoir Dogs. I will say that there is some great dialog and a great deal of tension built when Major Dieter Hellstrom played by August Diehl (who is absolutely fantastic in The Counterfeiters) joins our heroes at their table. It’s not a horrible scene, but it was a bit too self-referential for me.
Eli Roth as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, “The Bear Jew” who beats Nazis to death with a baseball bat, is not good. He plays over-the-top and not in a good way. Every word out of his mouth is fighting for your attention. He’s shouty and annoying and would have been much more imposing had he been silent throughout the film. Blech.
Mike Myers should not have been in this movie. He’s not particularly good at playing serious. It almost seemed like he was trying to stifle a laugh the entire time. In fact, that entire scene with Churchill in the background and Myers talking to that British-film-critic-turned-spy who I can’t be bothered to look up I could have done without.
Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine has the potential to be one of the best characters out of this whole thing. But it seems like after his scene in the forest that you’ve seen in the trailer, he looses energy. It’s absolutely hysterical to see him attempt to speak Italian. But there’s just something missing from Pitt’s performance. It’s a shame because I thought he’d be the best of the bunch.
The biggest disappointment for me was the Basterds. I couldn’t give a toss about them. And I should have because it’s their fucking movie! The Basterds are all one-note bad asses which is fine if we actually got to see them do some bad ass shit. But I found myself more interested in Shosanna’s story and it’s not just because she’s dead sexy. We don’t get to see much basterding and it’s a shame.
I’ve seen a bunch of hateful reviews that chastise Tarantino for the liberties he takes with history. Honestly, who gives a shit. If you thought you were going to get a gritty, historically accurate, war film, what the fuck trailers have you been watching? Okay, so the trailers are a little misleading, but no where are we promised an accurate historical portrayal of anything. This isn’t a war movie. If anything, it’s a pastiche of Tarantino’s past works set in something that loosely resembles a war movie. As an artist, it makes sense to build on what you know. But this film draws from too much of the same source material that Tarantino’s other works have. It doesn’t hang together as well in this World War II setting as it might have in a modern setting. It feels uneven. Entertaining to be sure, but uneven.
Of course, Rottentomatoes is giving the Basterds a healthy 88% so what the fuck do I know.