Inglorious Basterds (18)
Watch out! Tarantino is back to carpet-bomb our senses once more with another elaborate and loud feature with his usual eclectic mix of guns, explosions, satire, music, sex and endless film references…but this time there are Nazis! Tarantino has never been known for his subtlety and this new offering is no exception. With an even more epic plot, shattering violence and more film references than you can shake a stick at, it is business as usual for the avid director. You can’t blame some critics for being slightly apprehensive about the arrival of Inglorious Basterds as Tarantino’s latest efforts have been somewhat below par compared to his early films, and it seems with every new offering Tarantino is just trying far too hard to cram all of his favourite movies into a two hour feature. I have long wished to see a return to the Tarantino of old whose movies had a real edge to them and were truly visceral masterpieces; namingly Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. It’s not a surprise to hear the mixed receptions that met Inglorious when it arrived; it has been hailed as a hark back to his early films and although there were generally good write-ups, some at Cannes claimed Tarantino had ‘lost his power’ and the film failed as satire and as entertainment. Yet thus far it has become a modest success for Tarantino. There are definitely some great moments in Inglorious that are worthy of Tarantino’s best films but there are many signs that this could be the beginning of the end for Tarantino’s gargantuan presence on modern cinema.
The plot, like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, includes inter-mingling storylines; one follows Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a French Jew on the run from the Nazi’s since childhood who is hell bent on revenge. She opens a cinema in Paris and lives under the alias of Emmanuelle Mimieux but is soon pursued by needy German officer Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). The stories of two other characters are also weaved into the story; most notably that of Nazi Commander Hans Landa (Played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz) who is arguably one of Tarantino’s greatest creations. His deliciously evil and effortlessly suave character is the mastermind behind the capturing of Jewish people hiding in occupied France. The other is a traditional British gent named Lt. Archie Hilcox (Michael Fassbender) who was (not surprisingly) a film critic before the war. He becomes involved with the Basterd’s grand schemes against the Third Reich. Finally the Basterd’s, led by Lt Aldo Raine (Bradd Pitt) with Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth), a team of Jewish Americans and one psychopathic German. They scour occupied France and attempt to kill as many Nazi’s as humanly possible. All of these characters stories intertwine and the result is complete carnage and a very controversial finale.
From the off Inglorious is very attractive, violent and funny – the three golden rules in the Tarantino filmmaking handbook. The spectacle of Inglorious, as you’d well expect, maintains a very glossy and stylish image but there are moments where he does egg it a bit, so to speak. Tarantino has once again swapped subtle minimalism for dramatic deaths and pounding scores in Inglorious; as a result I feel this film lacks the grit that his earlier films possessed. Remember the stand-off between Bruce Willis and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction? The violence in Tarantino’s films have become purposely very silly, over the top and even cartoonish (Exhibit A: Kill Bill 1 & 2) and it seems he largely continues this trend in Inglorious; there is one tremendous Reservoir Dogs-esque shootout though which despite this stands as easily the best scene in the film. Tarantino still has the ability to ramp up the fun factor and produce some excellent action sequences. Although very colourful, eclectic and gruesome however, Tarantino’s films are now so clichéd that they don’t seem to have the shock value that he was once so keen to attain.
Tarantino’s characterisation has improved a lot in Inglorious and there are a couple of truly standout performances. Some of the characters are very interesting and most are played by relative unknowns. It is a characteristically bold move for Tarantino to choose lesser known actors as he usually brushes shoulders with the likes of Sam Jackson, De Niro, Uma Thurman et al. The outcome of this has been a good one as I think he found some winners there in the form of Melanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz. Laurent is the perfect femme fatale hell bent on revenge for what Hans Landa (Waltz) and the Nazi’s did to her. Her performance is very bold, at times devilish, for someone appearing in their first big film. Waltz is in a similar position and pulls off one of the film performances of the year as cold hearted, super suave Commander Hans Landa. A superb acting performance with real depth; you can really tell Waltz was enjoying every moment on screen. It is the unknowns that tend to steal the show in Inglorious where the veterans unfortunately tend to fade into the scenery a little bit. Brad Pitt was slated for his role as Aldo Raine but I feel it is unjustified; his performance is not bad as such, it has a lot more to do with the slightly one dimensional character and less to do with Pitt. However Pitt does offer some of the films great comic moments that help him survive a below par performance. Eli Roth puts in a forgettable show as Donny although Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger both maintain pretty solid performances. Also look out for Mike Myers as Fassbender’s commanding officer; his performance is pretty hilarious, but in a tongue-in-cheek Austin Powers kind of way! Tarantino was always good at squeezing the most out of even minor characters such as Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction and even himself in Reservoir Dogs but he seems to be slightly lacking that a bit in Inglorious. Mostly though the characters are all good to watch and the performances of Waltz and Laurent boost it a lot.
Tarantino’s films are essentially a celebration of cinema, his pallet endless and his influences vast. Nothing escapes reference in a Tarantino film, particularly in Inglorious; be it Peckinpah, Riefenstahl, Westerns or even 1970s blaxploitation films, Tarantino has it covered. It is very good to see someone so inspired by cinema that they feel a need to emulate films and characters but Inglorious, like his other recent outings, has become very gimmicky and pointless when it comes to his film references. He has always done this in his films and the likes of Kill Bill and Deathproof have proven to be essentially film buff porn and complete self-indulgence on Tarantino’s part. Inglorious is itself completely lifted from the 1978 Italian film The Inglorious Bastards and follows the basic plot, so it is really a remake. Tarantino also turns it into a kind of satire of War films by poking fun at bad accents from every quarter, essentially modelling the Basterd’s story on Hitler – Dead or Alive (1942) and in making his film historically false (to say the least). For me this brings into question Tarantino’s originality and ability to recapture the subtlety and intelligence that his first films possessed.
The inevitable problem with Inglorious Basterds is that it will always be compared to films from Tarantino’s heyday; and I think I’ve already proved my own point with all the comparisons I’ve already mentioned! I feel I’m quite wrong on that part as films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are incredibly hard to match and to put his other films down for not adhering to the quality of those two films is very harsh indeed. You do have to wonder though if Tarantino can ever come up with something as original and memorable as his early work? This currently is what’s puzzling many minds and leading people to consider whether Tarantino has the stature he once did as a filmmaker. I think however that Tarantino deserves credit for how much his films have evolved since Jackie Brown and that they remain entertaining. Inglorious Basterds does what it sets out to do and is a good one to go and see while it is still out and if you’re a Tarantino fan then you are going to absolutely love this one. There will always be a market for Tarantino and his outrageous escapades so maybe we are yet to see his best? Only time and many more Mexican shootouts will tell.