CAPSULE: Christoph Waltz shines and the patented Tarantino dialog does not in Quentin Tarantino's WWII action war fantasy/comedy/drama INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Brad Pitt's character organizes a team of nasty, homicidal Jews to strike terror in the Nazis occupying France. The story is very original, if nearly totally impossible, but it is like nothing you have seen before. Sadly, the film starts to drag with excess dialog, too often gratuitous and annoying, and it goes on for 153 minutes. Rating: high +0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Quentin Tarantino is like the Andy Warhol of film (even more than Andy Warhol was when he was involved in film). Warhol would borrow the label from Campbell's Soup and turn it into Pop Art. Tarantino's style is to find the gaps in his own film and borrow from other films--maybe pieces of many different styles of film-- and to piece them together to make his film. He slams this bunch of ill-fitting elements together into a revenge fantasy about the war with little respect for the events or the hair fashions of the time. He works hard to create the proper look in the background, but the people look wrong in the foreground.
The primary story features Lt. Aldo Raine (the name sounds like an allusion to the actor Aldo Ray; Raine is played by Brad Pitt struggling hard to look tough by jutting out his lower jaw). Lt. Raine has put together a team of the toughest, dirtiest, meanest, ugliest Jews he can find in the Army to go into occupied France and beat the hell out of the Nazis, spreading terror by scalping their prisoners. If we can have blaxploitation films, Tarantino is trying to make, at least in part, a jewploitation film. Tarantino pits his nasty Jews against the upper echelons of the Third Reich in general, but specifically against S.S. Col. Hans Landa (played by Christoph Waltz). If nothing else works in the film, and there certainly is plenty that does not work, Waltz makes up for a lot. Waltz is a tremendously hypnotic and evil Nazi. He plays wonderful extended cat-and-mouse games with the people who fall into his clutches. His manner is almost winning up until the moment he goes in for the kill. Raine and Landa each spread terror in occupied Paris during the war, each against very different sorts of people. Caught in the middle is Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), who is secretly a Jew whose family was murdered by Landa. Eventually all the threads will knit together into the story of one night with the world premiere of a German propaganda film being shown in the Paris movie theater owned by Shosanna.
There is much that Tarantino gets right, but he is also going wrong by abusing his own trademark. Tarantino's films have always sported off-the-wall dialog that usually is almost as captivating as the action of the film. This has worked well for him up until his last film, DEATH PROOF. In that film, dialog had lost its charming spark and instead just felt like irrelevant padding. In INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS the plot seems to just slow to a stop when the characters go off into long tracts of dialog, usually subtitled from German or French into English. It stretches the film to a tiresome 153 minutes in a film with not enough plot to fill a 90-minute film. At one point the whole film grinds to a halt as characters play a silly children's guessing game--in subtitled French yet.
One would think that a film like this would be aimed at an older audience who see films about World War II and about the Holocaust, but Tarantino is really writing for a younger generation who have fewer expectations about what a film on those subjects would be like. The score is a patchwork of music from other films that may carry very wrong connotations for those who have seen more film. He opens the film playing "The Green Leaves of Summer", which is a likable piece of music. I am not sure it fits even this film. But for audience members old enough it conjures up images of John Wayne's story of THE ALAMO. It feels all wrong here. Tarantino's World War II film has borrowings from 1970s blaxploitation films, style from Spaghetti Westerns, music from Ennio Morricone scores and films like CAT PEOPLE (1982), plots of other WWII thrillers ... and the list goes on. Perhaps part of the point is that the film intentionally forces in its strange style choices, or perhaps Tarantino is saying he does not care.
The publicity for this film makes it look like it is mostly a film like THE DIRTY DOZEN. Brad Pitt and his team of killer-soldiers is ne thread of the film, but by no means most of the film. It is a piece of the film, but there is just as much about Shosanna working against the Germans in Paris. The Brad Pitt segments are a major thread, but no more than that.
Comedies about the Holocaust usually feel out of kilter and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is no exception. But then this is not entirely a comedy. It is more a concoction of mismatched film styles. Some of it is good; much of it is preposterous. In trying to meld comedy and tragedy it entertains fitfully and requires more patience than most Tarantino films do. I rate it a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. I did like the reference to Italian horror director Antonio Margheriti.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0361748/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/inglourious_basterds/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper