Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Oh, Those Inglourious Basterds

A long overdue review of...the obvious...
Quentin Tarantino... if you’re a fan of Le Cinema you must have some opinion of this man. Is he a god? Is he a hack? A phony? The list goes on and on. He’s one of those guys you’re supposed to love or hate. There must be no middle ground. Seeing that I love to swim against the tide, I fall into that obscure middle ground. I really have no feeling towards the man. Before Basterds if I had to pick a favourite film of his, it would be Kill Bill. I’m not an enthusiast – but I don’t hate the guy. The omnipresent nature of the reviews for his latest feature Inglourious Basterds was alarming. You couldn’t go online without hearing about those Basterds. I didn’t indulge in many reviews because spoilers are always there – deliberately or inadvertently, and unless I know I’m not going to see a film I don’t read reviews. I did read Nick’s quasi review and I thought I was going to end up feeling as he did. Surprisingly I didn’t...well not really.
If I had to sum this movie up in word it would be discordant. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In typical Tarantino style the film is divided in chapters. I’m not a fan of the chapter motif unless it serves some bigger purpose. The chapters in Kill Bill were expository here they seem almost superfluous. If anything the chapters format only makes me realise the weaker parts of the stories. Even if you’re one of those championing this as the greatest film of the decade...there were some parts that were glaringly dawdling. But every film has it faults – and the end result of Basterds is satisfying for the most part. The film opens beautifully to Chapter One. But this same beautifully chapter is particularly misleading. Is that Tarantino’s intent? Knowing is his’s probable.
I’m wondering – how do I write a review of Inglourious Basterds. Unless you’ve made it your duty not to hear about it you’ve probably had your fill of it? So why add to the masses of synopses and spoilers? I won’t. What I would like to do is highlight a few scenes in the film and there effect on me. Some scenes in the film have been championed as iconic already. The scalping of the Nazis, the preparation scene set to Bowie’s "Cat People", and that disconcerting strudel scene. Each scene is interesting in its own way...some more appealing than others. But none of them marks the highpoint of the film for me.
My favourite scene is the first half of Chapter 4. Now would probably be the right time to tell you that with the possible exception of Christopher Waltz, Diane Kruger gives my favourite performance in the film. She plays a German actress who aligns with the Basterds to destroy the Nazis. There is whimsical moment where a young German soldier tells her fawningly, “There is no Dietrich only von Hammersmark.” I smiled to myself. Only Tarantino. Talk about putting pressure on the actor. We have to believe that Bridget von Hammersmark would be bigger, more desirable, more elusive and perhaps even more talented than Dietrich...and with only a few short scenes. And I’ll say Kruger sells it. Much has been said about Melanie Laurent’s [fair] performance. I suppose the appeal of Laurent eludes me, and if there are those who love her...they should, but Kruger deserves to recognised herself. Leaving her National Treasure days behind, she exudes charm as a German film star and gives my favourite Supporting Performance of the year – thus far.  What worries me though is that as much as I single out this scene as my favourite it is also glaringly obvious that the movie could have survived without it. Even the character of Bridget is unessential. It's little things like that that make me double take and wonder...does this film really appeal to me?
It's the scenes that work for everyone else that I find annoying. Chapter Five which most people seem to love I can't quite wrap my head around it. Sure the maniacal laugh of Shoshanna is the stuff nightmare's are made of...but the buildup. Must it go on for so long. And it's nothing against the length. Because really, it's not that long. It just doesn't tie together well...or maybe the knot is just a little lopsided. 
I suppose at the end of the day – all filmmakers have good and bad in them. Tarantino is just more up front about it. In a tongue-in-cheek moment the last lines of the film play as a Basterd looks almost directly at the audience and says “This just might me my masterpiece”. It’s played for laughs. Tarantino does think this is the best thing he’s done. Is it? I couldn’t be hard pressed to say this is the best film of the decade...of the year...or even the Summer. My grade of the film probably seems arbitrary. Is the ranking too low? Maybe...but this is just how I feel. All films are not created equal. Especially in my's been three days and already I'm liking it less and less. It's a subjective thing. The people this movie was made for will love it...but alas... I was not one of them.



Univarn said...

I had an insanely hard time reviewing this film. My usual process didn't work. I walked out of the theater aiming to give it about a 6/10, but the opposite of you happened for me. The more I thought back on it the more I enjoyed it, the more I realized how certain scenes stuck with me, and I ultimately settled on a 7/10 because I can't ignore that initial feeling. Though my score might change when it's released on DVD and I give it a second viewing.

I remember reading a while back that Tarantino took so long to make the film because he felt like he was writing his masterpiece and wanted to make sure it was perfect. I think he wrote a masterpiece, but directed an average Tarantino film.

Anonymous said...

Personally I loved the movie. The best thing I took away from it was this thought: no one else could do such a film. For better or worse, there is no director like Tarantino working. His free reign over Miramax may give us a not-so-influential movie mix (more influenced-by rather than influential) but that just makes the movies more enjoyable. Spaghetti Western here, an exploitative-movie there. Its nice these revivals and styles - no one else does it, and even if they did, could they do it as well as Tarantino? I think not.