Inglourious Basterds Review

20/08/2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Inglourious Basterds

Genre: War Drama

Date: 2009

Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis (by IMDB):

In Nazi occupied France, young Jewish refugee Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the slaughter of her family by Colonel Hans Landa. Narrowly escaping with her life, she plots her revenge several years later when German war hero Fredrick Zoller takes a rapid interest in her and arranges an illustrious movie premiere at the theater she now runs. With the promise of every major Nazi officer in attendance, the event catches the attention of the “Basterds”, a group of Jewish-American guerilla soldiers led by the ruthless Lt. Aldo Raine. As the relentless executioners advance and the conspiring young girl’s plans are set in motion, their paths will cross for a fateful evening that will shake the very annals of history

DT’s Rating: 6.5/10

The Review:

There’s a problem when you’re an established cult-gone-famous director like Quentin Tarantino is that your audience will always approach your films with a set of expectations. For me, my expectations with the great writer/director was: excellent script (especially where one-on-one dialogue is concerned); comic book/cult references; top notch dark comedy; silly/exciting action; brutal violence ; larger-than-life characters firmly grounded in reality; and,most of all, great enjoyable quality. A film director can either embrace these expectations and make the same film again and again, or they can try and break away from them. To me, Tarantino tried to do both with dubious success in this film, somehow presenting some expectations but not realising them beyond half-hearted and shallow gimmicks, and yet relying on previous popularity without actually presenting a fully finished film. In short, it was disappointing but yet had such potential.

Granted, it did well. A lot of critics rave about it, which is what attracted me to it (as well as it being from one of my favourite film writers), so to give it such a low rating is difficult for me, because the film is tricky. It’s not incredibly bad. It has good moments. It has some quality. But, and here’s the clincher, it’s not enjoyable. It sets up goalposts that you expect – since Tarantino is so highly regarded – and yet it falls just a little short.Let me break it down, if you will, and hopefully I can explain myself better.

The expectations.Like I said I approached the film with certain expectations as I’m sure any Tarantino fan will do, so I’d like to demonstrate how the film lived up to them:

Excellent Script (esp in dialouge)

First and foremost, we have the script. Now Tarantino is a good writer, no doubt about it, and the plot of Inglourious Basterds has some great bits. For example, how it is rooted down in reality through the ground-level machinations of various groups of characters, and how these all weave together to meet in the middle for the end, that’s fine. I especially liked little touches like how a simple hand gesture can reveal a spy. And the dialogue between characters who are ‘relaxing’, such as in the pub (think pulp fiction) or, more importantly, the ‘casual’ exchange in the beginning of the film when the Nazi Jew Hunter is subtly interrogating the dairy farmer are all well done. This is written by a man with an ear for how people really talk, and an appreciation for layering up subtlety to layer up tension at a torturous pace. While I personally didn’t mind the dialogue scenes taking a long time (after all, they were there for tension and it worked), for the film as a whole it made it too long – a problem that was further exacerbated by the fact that most of these were in subtitles. (yet again, being quite a fan of subtitled films, I didn’t mind, but the people I watched it with were fast losing the will to live. It made an already laborious process that required utmost concentration even more tedious). Individual pockets of the script were, admittedly, excellent. But, and this is a big but, the script overall didn’t work. Characterisation wasn’t properly realised beyond a few flashes and what they revealed immediately in the dialogue. For a film that, in the trailers, boasted to be a violent action/revenge film, there was precious little action. for example, the Basterds themselves were practically cameos and served very little purpose at all, which was dissapointing, as they had so much potential to be fascinating. Most of all, the script was dull, and you didn’t much care whether the plan succeeded or failed or indeed if any of the characters lived or died.

Comic Book / Cult Devices

This was the perfect example of Tarantino trying to live up to audience expectations of him, but falling short. Little comic book touches were added in – for example the occasional titling of names of characters in a  dramatic panel-style clip. there were little flashes of half-scenes meant to flash an important bit of info at the audience without going into detail – eg goebbles relentlessly shagging his secret girlfriend, or one of the basterds getting flogged. And finally little sketchy names and arrows to point out important nazis in the cinema. While these are fine  little devices that Tarantino practically pioneered, in this film they appear without context, without necessity, without particular origionality, and so come across as shallow crowd pleasers. the rest of the film, (unlike how these devices were brilliantly used in killbill), is not sculpted in mood to allow them without them looking foreign and ridiculous.

Top Notch Dark Comedy

That, my friends, is the funniest thing in the film. The ONLY funniest thing.

I realise that a lot of the humor was dark, and subtle mockeries of nationalities, but for it’s potential it fell very short of Tarantino’s previous ability to weave humor throughout dark films. Again the trailer and film didn’t match up. The trailer showed a film that had it tongue so firmly wedged in it’s cheek that hilarity was supposedly inevitable, and it the very least it would be fun. The real film? Not so much.

Silly/Exciting Action

Action? What Action? Again the trailer led us to believe a completely different thing to this film. There’s a couple of massacres. Which aren’t exciting. I think that this is the reason why the film falls flat again. The trailer lets you believe that you’ll follow around the basterds in their quest to kill nazis…in reality they have about 15 mins screen time in a 2 1/2 hour film. And they don’t do much while they’re there. In fact, it makes me wonder why they’re in the film at all. and when your title characters seem to be purposeless and dull, you know you have some real problems.

Brutal Violence

There was some gore. Especially at the end. I suppose it looked realistic. And the violence, when it happened, was no-frills and gory, again real. That’s not a bad thing, but again it is all done without excitement, and to characters which you don’t give a damn about (read: all of them).

Larger than life good characters that are firmly grounded in reality.

The more I think about it, the more I relaise what gets my goat with this film. I found that come the final curtain I knew next to nothing about the characters but for the superficial appearances, that i didn’t know most fo tehri names and even found some hard to recognise (eg – what? 2 basterds just got murdered?! And I don’t realise this until someone steps over and blatantly tells me that they’re basterds? and that guy was the british spy? granted, shaving off his moustache threw me off, but you could have developed his character a bit before you killed him off. jesus…). I admit that Tarantino focuses on the here and now, which usually works. for example in Killbill the bride’s backstory is only gradually revealed (in the wrong order), but at least she does have a backstory. In Pulp fiction it’s more or less the same. but in these films at least there is character development. in Inglorious basterds the only character development is shown with sosanna the jewish girl who escaped at the beginning, and that is thin. Landa is the one I liked most, but only because he got all the best dialogue. I couldn’t give two hoots about the basterds, and had difficulty recognising them as standing out from the background characters. there was no development or fleshing out of them like the killbill gang. Even Brad Pitt, the leader, has nothing two him. keen eyes would notice that he has a scar from a hanging, but we never learn about what that was from. All we know of him is that he has a retarded accent (sorry, but seriously, was it that bad and clichéd on purpose or can brad pitt just not do accents?) and that is where is characterisation ends. It is hard to like or hate any of the characters, and you don’t know who’s even the main characters you should root for. The film is full of cardboard cut-outs made apparently only to support the decent dialogue and little else.

There is something worse in film than inadvertently hating the main characters, and that is to not give a damn about any of them. And I did not give a damn.

And that was what most disappointed me from a writer who is brilliant at making memorable characters.

Great, enjoyable quality.

Because of all the reasons above the quality just consistently wasn’t there. you could see potential for quality, but it never quite added up together, as if someone had tried to complete a puzzle when they had halves of two different jigsaws.

The potential was certainly there, and if anything that makes you more bitter that it wasn’t realised.

In conclusion, the film was disappointing to me, yet still – from an educational point of view for a wannabe writer – it gave some little gems to pay attention to and learn from. the films strength was in it’s one-to-one dialouge: the little scenes where tension was eked out over a long period of casual and real talking, making it very sinister and real, and here is where the  jew-hunter Colonel Landa was in his element and supported the film…but as for an enjoyable piece of cinema, it falls short. For fans, you really should watch it, because only you can decide if, like me, you find it a disappointment, or like many others, you find it one of the best films of 2009. Apparently there is no middle ground.

For me, it was the weakest of his films (I have seen so far), so:

6.5/10

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