Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Review by Eoin O’Faolain

Like Marmite or World music, you either love or hate Quentin Tarantino movies. Especially recently, when his films reek of self-indulgence due to his singular vision and overwhelming (though some might say overweening) confidence as a film-maker. But if you give into Tarantino’s vision, you’ll find yourself lost in a fascinating and entertaining world of references and downright coolness. Kill Bill merged kung fu with spaghetti westerns and revenge flicks to make a thoroughly thrilling film that was accessible even to those unfamiliar to the genres. And now Tarantino has taken a stab at the almost forgotten action/war genre with his strangely misspelt Inglourious Basterds.

 The “Basterds” are a group of mainly Jewish tough-guys led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), whose mission is to murder and scalp as many Nazis as possible. But the Basterds’ mettle is tested when they become involved in a plot to destroy a French cinema that will host the premiere of an SS film, attended by the likes of Goebbels and Hitler himself. And while the cinema’s owner, Shosanna, a Jewish girl in disguise, is hatching her own plot to destroy the heads of the Nazi party, she must avoid the steely smarts of Col. Hans Landa, a man who earned the nickname “The Jew Hunter” and who is most likely to uncover the plots of both Shosanna and the Basterds.

 Lately Tarantino has been seemingly attempting to revive long lost sub genres of cinema, such as the poorly made gore of Grindhouse cinema, or blaxploitation movies (Jackie Brown). WWII action seemed like a genre that isn’t worth reviving, an insultingly “entertaining” view of the most horrid period of the last century. Even its best examples, such as The Dirty Dozen, are forgettable at best. Yet the downright dour tone of all recent WWII films are not only too heavy but predictably so, and none of them coming close to the brilliance of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. But how does Tarantino manage to make an enjoyable without appearing irresponsible to the families of concentration camp survivors? He does this by being Tarantino. Inglourious Basterds constructs a world, not of the real 1940’s in Europe, but rather an imagined TarantinoWorld, where everyone knows their cinema, where Mexican standoffs are a dime-a-dozen,  and where our history is rewritten so drastically that it seems preposterous to be offended by its attempt to entertain.

The film assembles a bizarrely diverse cast, from the best of France and Germany (such as veteran German TV actor Chris Waltz as Landa), to some strange choices from Hollywood. Sam Jackson appears in voice-over, horror director Eli Roth appears as a Basterd who has a habit of beating Nazis to death with a baseball bat, and The Office‘s BJ Novak is also present. The biggest failure is casting is Mike Myers (yes, THAT Mike Myers) as an English general, whose performance turns into tiring farce. But the highlight is Brad Pitt. At first, his Lt. Aldo Raine seems like a caricature, but that’s only until you realize the intention is to play it as a comedic role. It’s further proof (along with Burn After Reading) that Pitt has the timing and facial gestures of some of the best comic actors around. One of the best scenes in the film is when Raine poses at a Nazi gala as an Italian film critic, his knowledge of Italian and the Italian accent being possibly the most hilariously worst you can imagine.

But what prevents this film from becoming a classic is, ironically, Tarantino’s self-indulgence. For while the film could be non-stop action and entertainment, it’s two and a half hours long, and unnecessarily so. Many of the scenes lose their tension by being very badly paced. Characters explain their situations for far too long, or in far too much detail. Tarantino used to be known for his ultra-hip dialogue, where a group of men discussing Madonna lyrics was a delight. But in Inglourious Basterds a lot of the conversations become dull once the scenario is established. It’s the same kind of meandering dialogue that made Death Proof so excruciatingly boring and slow.

Overall, Inglourious Basterds was a great opportunity to not only revive a long-lost sub-genre, but to once again immerse yourself in Tarantino’s world, a world made with such great cojones that common history is completely rewritten in the most satisfying of ways. But sadly, Tarantino’s world is also full of overlong dialogue that ruins its pace.

3 / 5 stars

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