So here's the thing. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is not a disaster. It's quite watchable and occasionally leavened by good performances, both comedic (Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt) and dramatic (Mélanie Laurent), not to mention beefcake (Til Schweiger). There are flashes of Tarantino craziness (in a superb basement-tavern set-piece for one) but somehow the movie never takes off - never quite convinces us that we are in a surreal alternate place. In a sense, Tarantino is too good. He does what he's never done before - he creates genuinely dramatic, emotional, credible situations of fear and tension. And then he expects us to switch back in Tarantino the Comic Fantasist mode. As a result, when Tarantino does something that really fracks with reality (e.g. the ending) it just feels wrong. Final reaction: flat. Meh. Walk out of the cinema thinking, what just happened here?
Now, down to the nuts and bolts. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is really two films. The first is a pretty serious revenge movie. Mélanie Laurent plays a young Jewish woman who has watched her family butchered by Nazis, and is now in a position, as owner of a Parisian cinema, to blow up the entire German High Command at a premiere of some Nazi propoganda. Melanie Laurent is excellent as Shosanna Dreyfuss - just watch her suppress her fear when she realises she is taking coffee with the man who butchered her family. Diane Kruger is also notably convincing as a German film-star who has to charm her way into the premiere in order to disrupt it. The tension when she is being interrogated by the same Nazi officer who terrified Shosanna is palpable. The second movie, which surrounds the first, is a more broadly drawn Tarantino comedy in which a bunch of American Nazi scalp-hunters, led by Brad Pitt, team up with Diane Kruger's German film-star and Michael Fassbinder's British soldier, to also blow-up aforementioned Nazis. The comedy comes from Brad Pitt as a sort of Dirty Dozen war hero and his interactions with the Nazi villain played by Waltz (whose performance unifies the two parts of the film). The comedy does not come from a particularly ill-judged cameo from Mike Myers.
My suspicion is that the movie won't satisfy anyone. Tarantino fans will want more Brad Pitt/Basterds craziness and tire of the Parisian drama. Not to mention the fact that, rather bravely, Tarantino has chosen to be vaguely credible in keeping most of the dialogue in French and German. Indeed, he goes further, with a great running gag about Americans not speaking foreign languages. I just wonder whether that gag will back-fire with his target demographic. The cult-fans looking for kick-ass violence and witty dialigue might also object to the fact that, ultimately, this is not really a movie about France, Nazis, the Holocaust or anything other than Tarantino's abiding love of cinema, and his childlike belief that movies really can change the world.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS played Cannes 2009, where Christoph Waltz won Best Actor, Berlin and Melbourne 2009. It is released next weekend in Belgium, France, the UK, Australia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, New Zealand, Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan, the USA and the Netherlands. It is released the following weekend in Iceland, Argentina, the Czech Republic, the Portugal, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Denmark. It opens in September in Finland, Romania, Israel and Spain. It opens in October in Italy, Japan, Singapore, Mexico and Brazil.