Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

I'm a big Tarantino fan. I look forward to everything he does, and haven't disliked one of his movies yet. I've been following the Inglourious Basterds rumors for years, and have been dying to see what he would do with a WWII film. Now that I've seen it I'm not really sure what to make of it.

On the one hand Basterds features some of Tarantino's best writing and direction. But at the same time the movie seems to be lacking something. Like Kill Bill, the tones and styles of Basterds come from all over the place. But they don't seem to gel quite as well as they did in Kill Bill. Some of the stylistic flourishes are jarring. Most of the scenes are deliberately slow, building tension up to a sudden (usually violent) climax. And because the scenes are so drawn out, whenever Tarantino decides to insert a quick cutaway, usually for a laugh, it disrupts the flow in a very awkward way.

The scenes that work in this movie work very well. The lengthy opening scene, or "chapter", is the best example of the slow buildup that Tarantino re-uses multiple times throughout the movie. It's a scene almost entirely of dialog between two men, one of whom is one of the best villains I've seen in a movie ever. My other favorite scene comes later, and has pretty much the same effect, only with more people thrown into the mix. Neither of these scenes focus on the Basterds themselves.

The trailer for this movie is pretty misleading. This is not just a movie about a group of American soldiers running around Nazi-occupied France and collecting scalps. That's only about half of it. The other half centers on a Jewish French woman who runs a movie theater that has been chosen for the premiere of Joseph Goebbel's latest propaganda film. The two stories of the film are barely connected, but they converge at the theater for the film's final conflict.

With the exception of maybe Brad Pitt's character, none of the Basterds are ever fully developed. A few of them get a single moment to shine, but for the most part are relegated to the background. Their story has some really great turns, and most of the movie's fun comes out of their scenes, but again it feels like something is missing. Perhaps two major plot threads were just to much to sustain in such a slowly paced movie. I'd be interested to see if there is much deleted material, or is this was Tarantino's vision from the start.

Both stories are revenge fantasies, neither one quite as satisfying as the one in Kill Bill. But it's a fun movie, more about WWII films than the actual war itself. I feel like I need a second viewing now that I know what to expect. I could see this one growing on me over time. I just don't feel it's quite up to snuff with the rest of Tarantino's work.

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