Inglorious Basterds is the newest film from Quentin Tarantino, a man who has undoubtedly had a massive influence on modern cinema since the early nineties when he first surfaced with the brilliant Reservoir Dogs (currently my favourite movie ever!) and Pulp fiction. However, his section of Grindhouse, Death Proof, has been criticised by some as showing that he had gone off the boil somewhat and lost his golden touch invoking too much dialogue and failing to keep the film interesting. Does his newest film, epic World War 2 ensemble piece inglorious Basterds hark back to the early works or is it a dull overly dialogue filled film? In this case I’m very pleased to inform you that the former is definitely the case. The Basterds kick ass!
The story, as with most Tarantino films (with the possible exception of Jackie Brown) is told in what could be called a fractured linear fashion. This results in a film where, although there is a distinctive main plot thread following the attempts of the Basterds (led by Brad Pitt and Eli Roth) to blow up a cinema which is showing Nazi Germany’s newest propaganda movie “A Nation’s Pride”, there are several branching plot points and the film frequently breaks out into flashbacks, often without warning. The best thing about the narrative of this film is that it sets out at the very beginning that this film is not based in the realms of the real world. This doesn’t take place in a real universe and this allows the excessive, often to cartoonish levels of character to exist in a realm where it makes sense. Pitt’s exceptionally entertaining Lt. Aldo Raine is a brilliant character, however in most other film universes the character wouldn’t be believable and would just become a joke. In the crazy existence dreamt up by Tarantino, he fits right in. Make no mistake, this is World War 2 as seen by Tarantino there are surprises, twists, turns and no pre-set ending. The one thing certain about this film is anything could happen to anyone at any point.
The acting in this film is another major plus point in this film. The absolute gold star, stand out performance in this film is Christopher Waltz as ‘The Jew Hunter’ Hans Landa. This is an absolutely outstanding performance as a carefully controlled lunatic. This results in one of the most disconcerting sections of the entire film. When he finally loses control for the briefest of moments, it allows for a genuinely shocking character turn that shows the monster just beneath the surface banging to get out. It’s a genuinely astounding turn from Waltz who switches effortlessly between languages in the middle of conversations. If there is no Oscar nomination for Waltz then there is quite simply, no justice. Undoubtedly this is the best performance of the year so far and barring something astounding being produced later in the year this mesmerising turn should be a shoe in.
But that is not to undermine everyone else in this film. As previously mentioned Pitt puts in a highly entertaining, if not particularly deep, performance which does an excellent job of keeping the audience into the plight of the Basterds. Equally Eli Roth, although not having much to do does a great job of giving a convincingly intimidating performance as the Bat-wielding ‘Bear Jew’ who terrifies Nazi soldiers with the mere rumours of his existence. Pretty much every performance in the film is at worst acceptable and no one is ever so bad as to draw you out of the film. The most notable of the weaker performances is that of Diane Kruger who, as in both Troy and the National Treasure films, again fails to fill her character with the required level of emotion. Although it’s not necessarily a bad performance, it is definitely an under par one slightly devoid of the necessary emotion and charisma required for the role. Unfortunately this stands out in a film very much about the excesses of emotion from Melanie Laurent as the Jewish cinema owner whos entire family was murdered in front of her, right through to the hero soldier who becomes obsessed with her. Generally speaking this is a film gleefully devoid of subtlety and far better for it!
This film however, is really all about Tarantino. This is his baby, a film he’s been writing for over a decade and that time was undoubtedly well spent. This is one of the best written scripts of the entire year and it gloriously revels in this fact with extended scenes of dialogue that inevitably end up being about twice as entertaining as entire films that have been released this year. But most of all Tarantino revels in his direction in this film. The fantastic build up of tension is the first scene of the film sets the tone brilliantly and acts as a precursor to the soon to be legendary bar scene. This results in one of the most devastating gun fights seen in modern cinema. In a classic spaghetti western type scene almost everyone involved ends up a lot worse off than they started but the scene is worth the sacrifice with an extremely tense game of verbal cat and mouse going on. It is, quite simply, one of the most outstanding scenes ever committed to film and will definitely go down in the annals of cinema history as a moment of sheer brilliance from the acting to the steady direction.
However as with any film it’s not perfect. To be nit picky, there are one or two scenes that could possibly have done with a slight cut. In particular the scene with Mike Myers is purely expository and could possibly have done with being worked into other scenes instead of earning its own separate scene. For example adding it in to the discussion between Aldo Raine and the British agent would surely have made far more sense instead of breaking up the film unnecessarily.
Another slight problem is that some characters seem to have been woefully underappreciated in the script. Where Christopher Waltz gets gloriously lengthy screen time as ‘The Jew Hunter’ (and deservedly so) it’s sad to note that one of the few German born Basterds, Til Schweiger’s multiple Gestapo murdering Hugo Stiglitz, only gets one flashback sequence and little development beyond this, though it is certainly hinted that there is more depth to the character in several scenes. This does ultimately end up feeling like a missed opportunity.
Beyond minor complaints like this there is exceptionally little to complain about. Is it Tarantino’s best? Probably not, but Tarantino on any sort of form is almost certain to make an exceptionally good film and so it turns out here. This is a very good film and though not quite reaching the same level of early Tarantino it definitely trumps Death Proof and is at worst equal with Kill Bill and Jackie Brown two other excellent works by Tarantino. This film will not convert you if you already hate Tarantino. It is essentially more of the same but Tarantino is so good at what he does that it doesn’t really matter. This is a quality film that I heartily recommend to all but the staunchest of Tarantino haters.
Overall: Epic Win
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