Saturday, August 15, 2009


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.


  1. BillFenner196721/8/09 8:14 AM

    After seeing the movie last night, and going through review after review to see if anyone felt the same way, I finally found someone who felt as underwhelmed by the whole experience as I did.

    The film is half an adventure, half a revenge drama, half a comedy and half Tarantino silliness, and yet, despite there being four halves of a movie it all doesn't seem add up to just one good one.

    It baffles me how so many of the reviews I read say how innovative and fresh this film is -- don't they know their cinema history? The film is a mish-mashing of a dozen films that I can think of.

    I commend QT for his "voice" as a proper writer-director being bold and all that -- so rare these days with the committee film-making culture of Hollywood -- but if he focus more on telling ONE story he really could make a genuine masterpiece that has a chance to stand the test of time. I fear that films like Basterds, Kill Bill and Death Proof will be remembered with a cringe as opposed to the early brilliance of Dogs, Pulp and Jackie Brown that stand out even stronger in hindsight.

  2. I couldn't agree more with your comment - indeed it is in some ways a more articulate critique than my own. The frustration with Tarantino today is directly correlated with how talented we all know he really is.

  3. BillFenner196721/8/09 1:35 PM

    Oh, and perhaps his most telling flaw is this: I saw him interviewed on Jonathon Ross a few weeks ago. Ross asked him something that I'd been DYING to know for ages -- why does he re-use classic film scores in his movies and refuse to use original music? QT's answer: "I won't let someone have that much power over what I do." (Or words to that effect.) QT would rather brazenly "borrow" from prior films -- plots, dialogue, style, music -- and incorporate them into his own ideas and claim originality by doing so, like so many mediocre rappers who sample James Brown, et al.

    For a guy who was, once upon a time (pun very much intended), a genuine new, fresh, original voice in cinema, this is so maddening! Either he blew his wad with the early stuff or he's simply too scared to do something properly unique, or, he's so affected by his 90s success that he has simply lost that spark he had way back when.

    Either way, it's sad. So much worse than bemoaning the likes of McG and Michael Bay who never, ever threatened greatness.

    Then again, as the Tennyson said, it's better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.

    I can still think fondly of Dogs, Romance, Pulp, Brown and bits of Naturla Born Killers as I cry myself to sleep tonight.

    Boo hoo ...

  4. This brings me on to another of my pet gripes. People always rag on Producers for ruining Art by clipping the wings of Auteurs. But what Tarantino needs right now is a strong producer who can stand up to his ego and tell him to focus and edit. The same can be said of Judd Apatow.

  5. Good timing for a lil positive PR, what with the Jews currently under fire for stealing organs from murdered Gazans, mostly women and orphans

  6. BillFenner196721/8/09 7:52 PM

    True. He clings so closely to Harvey Weinstein for one, and, although I don't have any inside knowledge, I wonder what kind of authority Lawrence Bender has on that set? Slim to none, I suppose. You're right, QT needs a Sam Spiegel to his David Lean if only as a figure who can galvanise him into being more self-critical and as a force as opposition so that he has to fight for his ideas and choices. Otherwise he is in the situation now: given carte blanche making near three hour films that are less than the sum of their parts.

  7. You have to think that at some point, the poor box office will force the producers to take him in hand. As for the Weinsteins, as much as Harvey has the "Scissorhands" reputation, he pretty much lets Kevin Smith and Tarantino do whatever they want. I only hope Tarantino doesn't take Eli Roth down with him.

  8. BillFenner196722/8/09 10:04 PM

    Don't wanna monopolise the discussion on this, but I just want to make a final comment.

    I just read a wonderful review of the movie from the old school American critic Rex Reed, which almost completely echoes my thoughts -- yours too, possibly -- and makes another few intriguing points too. If you haven't already, read it, go here:

  9. The Rex Reed review sounds like an apologia. If it doesn't want to be taken seriously, if it's really pure hokum, why spend time with Melanie Lacoeur's character, and give her scenes of real pathos and tension? My problem with IG was that it WAS NOT pure hokum as advertised, but rather an uneasy blend of absurdist revenge fantasy and character drama.

  10. I meant Laurent, not Lacoeur.