Monday 7 September 2009

FILM REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds

I’ve been meaning to get around to writing a review of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film ‘Inglourious Basterds’ and after another bunch of friends asked me what I thought, it’s time to nail my colours to the mast.

‘Inglourious Basterds’ is the one thing it is hard to imagine ever saying, for better or worse, about a Tarantino film. Overall, it’s decidedly average.

The film certainly had none of the expectation that preceded his earlier efforts. After the tiresomely self-indulgent nonsense of the two-volume Kill Bill films and the execrable Deathproof, the only way Tarantino could go was up. But the premise of his new World War 2 action/comedy adventure hardly looked that promising.

Once again breaking the plot, such as it exists, into a number of chapters, presumably because of Tarantino’s apparent inability to link sub-plots together into a narrative whole, the film tells a total of five separate stories. That's an awful lot of ingredients, I think you'll agree. The first story is about a senior Nazi officer nicknamed the Jew Hunter, who has an innate ability to track down those he revels in persecuting. Another concerns a ruthless band of Jewish-American soldiers hunting and scalping Nazis in occupied France, whilst third is about a cinema owner hiding her Jewish identity from a persistent German admirer, whose exploits as a sniper have turned him into a movie star. The fourth tells the story of the premiere in Paris of his film, with the full deck of cards of Nazi villainy in attendance, including (and this where history accuracy leaves the rails completely) the ace of spades himself, Adolf Hitler. And the fifth tells the story of the involvement of the haplessly useless British and their double-agent, a popular German actress, in a plot to blow up the cinema and swipe out the German high coomand.

One way or another, the characters in these five secondary plot strands are contrived to meet and swap dialogue – endless, increasingly verbose dialogue. But the problem with all this supposedly auxiliary story-telling is that there really is no main plot. The Basterds, who you’d think were the central characters, are hardly in the film at all and some elements, included the protracted cellar-bar scene and the ludicrous ending, seem to go on and on forever without adding anywhere near enough to an overall narrative.

All this is a shame, because the film starts well. The opening scene, with the Jew Hunter interrogating a French farmer, is genuinely tense and suspenseful. The suggestion that Tarantino is planning on telling a war story through the structure of a spaghetti western seems rather intriguing. Even the introduction of the Basterds and the first encounter with Brad Pitt’s foghorn-voiced Colonel Aldo Raine manages to keep this prospect alive. But then it is downhill after the first hour, with a truly awdul cameo from Mike Myers as a British general who sounds just like Austin Powers, which should have been left on the cutting room floor, followed by Pitt becoming ever more of a ham and Michael Fassbinder, who was amazing in last year’s Hunger, completely wasted as a posh British officer. Characters appear momentarily before suddenly vanishing and still the talking, the unrelenting badinage, just wouldn’t stop.

The only actor who comes out of this over-cooked and over-seasoned stew with any credibility is the Austrian Cristoph Waltz, who brings real menace to ever scene he is in as the Jew Hunter. But what this tends to do is highlight the bigger flaws elsewhere. These flaws may not be as painful to watch as they were in the Kill Bill films, but they leave the unshakable feeling that Tarantino isn’t really that bothered. He’s having loads of fun and as long as there are investors who are prepared to fund his personal distraction, then it doesn’t matter so much what the audience thinks. It’s like watching a film by someone who is talented, certainly, but untouchable and therefore completely out of control.

Seriously, if anyone ever needed a producer or editor to slap him hard across the face and tell him to pull himself together, it’s Quentin. And what, one wonders, happened to the apparently promising director who made Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown? If he's ever spotted again, will someone please call producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein and tell them to keep a tighter rein on him?

All I can say is thank goodness my next review is likely to either be for 'The Hurt Locker', which I saw this evening, or 'Mesrine: Killer Instinct' that I'm meeting friends to see tomorow, or 'District 9', which I meeting Z to see on Tuesday before she heads off back to Thailand...


HarpyMarx said...

I have read in various reviews that the best thing about Inglorious is Cristoph Waltz.

Oh, and do really want to see The Hurt Locker. I have been politicking as opposed to cinema going....

Kevin said...

Definitely worth seeing The Hurt Locker. It's not perfect, but far better than most of the other Iraq war themed films of late, even though its not exactly about Iraq.

It's more about how tightly wound US soldiers are encouraged to be and how much the dangers of war can become both complex and highly addictive. One of those films where you don't exactly like the characters but are still absorbed.

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