Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You Killed Quentin, You Basterd

Inglourious Basterds is my least favorite Tarantino film.

That being said, it might not be the worst QT project (but it might be that too). There are quite a few redeeming qualities to be found...and you don't even need to look that hard. The opening scene where Landa subtly interrogates the dairy farmer sets the film up to be a masterpiece. These two relatively unknown actors sliding well-crafted dialogue across the table to one another filled twenty of the most enjoyable minutes I've had this summer.

The introduction the titular characters, our Nazi-killing hero squad, was exactly what fans were waiting for. Head bashing, scalpings, and bright yellow Superfly graphics lead us to believe that the Tarantino roller coaster is right on track. What more exciting than watching the scalps come off, the skulls get cracked, and the swastikas get carved. By the end of the misleading scene, you're ready to be wowed in the usual Tarantino way. Unfortunately, that's pretty much where the fun stops.

Basterd's scenes take their time to develop, which helps the interrogation opening scene but serves as a detriment for others. For example, when Soshanna
is ordered to a luncheon with Fredrick Zoller and Nazi Propagandist Joseph Goebbells, the scene serves to move the plot along and then plays on and on until eventually the director's merciful enough to yell "cut!" The weak attempt to build suspense was fallible to anyone who'd ever seen a movie before. Follow that with the underwhelming "tavern scene," which was about twenty minutes too long, and you've created the perfect formula for an uninteresting second act.

The third act was definitely interesting but lacked the "coolness" flair that pushes Tarantino movies past their competitors. Bridget's plan to blow up Hitler and Co. was interesting enough but it have been better served as it's own movie and directed by a more subtle director. What happened here was that an interesting storyline (Jewish girl debates whether or not to blow up her beloved cinema to avenge her slaughtered family) battled it out with a captivating concept: (Jewish soldiers form a hit squad and they're promising 100 Nazi scalps a piece) and the first party won. Each plot could have been the basis of a great film but the combination of the two resulted in a...lackluster film.

Here are some other thoughts I've had since my opening weekend viewing:

* There were too many characters. The Basterds get lost amongst the rest of the cast and none of them, Brad Pitt included, are given nearly enough screen time.

* Too many long, drawn out scenes. Some of them try to build suspense (the luncheon scene, for example) but fail. Others just serve little to no purpose. "The other book was called '24 Frame DaVinci' and it was about...blah blah blah"

* Brad Pitt's character was a complete caricature. And I liked it. Some writers speculated that any shortcomings of the film would come from Pitt's performance but that's the least of Basterds' problems.

* Mike Myers' awful performance might have been the worst part of the entire movie. Did anyone else get that the fat guy was supposed to be Winston Churchill? Even the British film critic was completely unneeded. The scene was a shameful excuse for Tarantino to convince us that he knows about film pre-Vanishing Point. Bleh...

* Christoph Waltz (Landa) is the best part of Basterds. He acts his ass off and deserves a spot on any Top 5 Tarantino-Directed Performances list ever to be written. He refuses to let his character appear layerless at any point. Landa is the most developed character, partially because he gets so much screen time, but also because the script left room for the actor to flesh out the human behind the words.

* Overall, the biggest problem with the film is that it didn't know what it wanted to be. Was it trying to be a stylistic violent satire complete with Samuel L. Jackson voiceovers and Blaxploitation logos for introducing characters? A Coen Bros.-inspired dark comedy? An ultrapatriotic World War II fairy tale? My Dinner with Hitler? Even at 2 1/2 hours, the narrative spreads itself too thin and instead of getting one or two plots that we really care about, we get three or four that we don't.


Taylor said...

I haven't seen it yet...but I did see a Tarantino interview on Charlie Rose. He said his favorite character of all the movies he has made is in it. I think it was the German officer interrogating the French milk farmer in the beginning. He went on for nearly twenty minutes just talking about that one character and the making of that whole scene.

Moviezzz said...

I think I liked the film A LOT more than you did.

However, I pretty much hated every scene involving Brad Pitt. He overacted so much that Nathan Lane was probably cringing.

If you edited out all of his scenes, I think it would be my favorite QT film. It still is up there, though.

Daniel Getahun said...

I'm somewhere in the middle of all of this. Appreciated a lot of the acting and the style and the dialogue, but hated the violence and found most of it just repulsive. QT still seems like he would be an absolute jerk to hang out with.

And to answer your last question, he would say, "It's supposed to be all of them, and that's the GENIUS of it, the GENIUS of me."

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

Loved this movie.

Bridget von Hammerschmark wasn't the one at the luncheon. It was Soshanna. You probably knew that.

I happened to like the luncheon scene, how uncomfortable Soshanna was, how close she was to being found out, etc. I dunno.

Jonny said...

Hey Scott,

I think you're right on the mark for the most part. Brad Pitt was literally a cartoon, numerous scenes (aside from the opening scene, which, for my money, is the best thing Tarantino has ever done) were way too long and tried way too hard to build suspense that wasn't there, and too much screen time was given to both Eli Roth and BJ Novak. And you're right, the tone felt really uneven.

That being said, I didn't hate it; I thought it was passable -- although the never-ending references and film geek homages were getting a little tiresome.