I’d managed to successfully steer clear of reading any reviews, absorbing any press and gathering any real sort of opinions about Inglourious before I saw it (applause, please). The thinking being that the release of a Quentin Tarantino film is an event, certainly one beyond your average summer blockbuster, so I wanted to come into watching this film as fresh as possible before my viewing was diluted by some blindly devoted hacks waxing lyrical about their favourite auteur. A hack I may be, but I’m not so devoted to Tarantino that I’ll give him a free-pass every time he releases something.
Inglourious finds us in 1944 in Nazi occupied France, following Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and the eponymous Basterds, a group of American Jewish soldiers fighting their way through the country, killing almost all the Germans they can find. As the story progresses, they become involved in a plot to assasinate the four biggest leaders of the Third Reich, including Hitler himself as they attend a Parisian cinema belonging to Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent). Unbeknownst to them, she’s Jewish, and craves revenge against the Nazis. She hatches her own plan to blow up her cinema with Hitler and co. trapped inside. At the same time, the ruthless, cunning and charming SS officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) that murdered her family whilst in hiding three years previously is hot on the heels of her and the Basterds as their dual plans comes to fruition.
That’s as small a synopsis as I can realistically give. The full plot has double crossing German actresses, British soldiers so posh they’d drive anyone mad, brutal slayings and a decree by Aldo Raine leader that each of the Basterds must collect 100 scalps (take that literally). The film itself is split into chapters, introducing us to many characters that affect the story but often have little interaction with the core of the cast. If that reminds you of Pulp Fiction, then you’re on the right track.
The chapter structure seemed wise, simply because with such a complicated story and with so much ground to cover, it all needed to be fleshed out separately. Back stories, character presentations all needed their own time to grow before being thrust together. For instance, Pitt’s Raine and Waltz’s Handa are the film’s primary male protagonist and antagonist but don’t meet until the last chapter of the film. Tarantino does a good job of introducing and developing these characters before thrusting them together, and his ability to weave narratives together is still impressive.
After reading the plot, you’d almost be mad to think it, but one big problem this film has is predictability. Within these chapters, we are often treated to a mountain of dialogue. Dialogue masterfully delivered in English, French and German but masses of it, none the less. Each chapter features a stunning amount of preparation before it reaches an extremely violent conclusion. Yes, Tarantino often builds the intensity up nicely, but it feels like he’s almost making you crave the violence so each chapter can end. With that predictability in place, some of the emotional impact is lost because you know what’s coming. This isn’t exactly uncommon for Tarantino, but rarely has it been so blatant. This also brings us to another big flaw; we spend so much time with a large cast of characters that we feel somewhat disconnected from the Basterds themselves. It’s strange; they’re the driving force, the core of the film, but they’re never really developed enough for us to care about them. We see them do a lot of killin’, but thats about it.
Is it perhaps too violent? Looking at the film’s director, you’d expect nothing less. He does have something of a track record of doing nasty things to his characters, doesn’t he? It’s definitely over the top at times, but it’s Tarantino, so I’m surprised about the negative reaction this film’s nasty bits has provoked. Most of Tarantino’s violence isn’t necessary, but that’s never stopped him before.
Away from the film’s issues is an impressive cast. Brad Pitt is assured as the Basterds’ leader, Aldo Raine. A smooth, smart talking but ruthless Southerner who acts as the film’s biggest comic relief, it’s a big side-step for Pitt and it’s also a role he tackles well. Melanine Laurent is a somewhat more sympathetic protagonist in her role as Shosanna Dreyfus, a French Jew hiding her heritage as she plots an ultimate revenge against the Nazis. Her performance is impressive, and she slips into the role with effortless style and appeal. The Basterds, the Axis Powers, the British are all acted beyond competence, but you have to single out Cristoph Waltz’s performance as ‘The Jew Hunter’, Hans Landa. Quite simply, it’s brilliant. Landa is a stunning character; full of supposed warmth, cruelty, cunning, a wicked sense of humour and a proposterously happy demeanour. You cannot take your eyes from Waltz’s performance, and when award season rolls around, expect to hear his name.
There’s definitely enough in Basterds to make it watchable and enjoyable, and because of its setting and style, it stands out perhaps more than anything Tarantino has done this decade. It’s well acted, looks great and keeps you entertained for the duration. The man himself sees this film as his ‘men of a mission film’, his Dirty Dozen, but he spends so much time away from the Basterds (supposedly the focus of his film) that they’re never really developed. You can’t help but feel a little disconnected. Inglourious is a refreshing change of setting from one of the most distinctive auteurs of today, and it’s still as thrillingly Tarantino as you can get. But it just isn’t constructed well enough to be anything more than a good effort.