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Inglourious Basterds

Film Two Stars
I tried not to be swayed by any of the press or hype regarding Inglourious Basterds before I saw it, and believe me that took a fair amount of work because the sway on this film has been huge. From the moment it was seen in Cannes the negative press was pouring out about it, then there was the talk of the re-cut and finally it was being seen, and the majority were loving it and claiming how great Quentin Tarantino was, again. In fact more than that, the general press were coming out with some great quotes and ratings. Now it would seem, after the cut, the majority loved it.

So keeping my distance from all this I tried to keep an open mind while I wrote articles about it, after all he was tackling a genre I love, the war film, and being a fan of films like The Dirty Dozen I thought that this couldn't fail to disappoint. It's also fair to say I am a fan of his films to date.

That is, until now.

IngloriousBasterds.jpgYes, there's no point skirting around the issue, it's time to dive into what I thought of the film, and let me put it plainly, I didn't enjoy Inglourious Basterds, despite the fact that I do like Quentin Tarantino. Let's not get things wrong here, I'm not a hater of Tarantino by any means, sure I don't think he's all that people talk him up to be, but he's still a good film-maker, and so far, for the most part he's being proving just that.

Not so with Inglourious Basterds, not for me anyway.

Plot.pngThe story is advertised as being something akin to The Dirty Dozen, where an American soldier gathers together a group of like-minded Jewish soldiers to head deep into German lines and kill Nazi's with extreme prejudice, building a reputation for murdering and mutilating them.

However as they spread their word through Germany something comes to them, the opportunity of a plan that could see the end of the German high command, so the story begins.

Yet when you actually see the film it's a lot more than that, and this plot thread is a little less than expected. The story actually has a number of other threads running on parallel lines that begin to cross and join at some critical points.

TheFilm.pngLet's start at the beginning, the opening of the film provides a lot of promise, it's really well filmed and has two great characters going head to head in the traditional Tarantino style, conversation, and through their words the real purpose and meaning becomes apparent, and that goes for both characters.

However it doesn't flow as smoothly as it once did with Tarantino. I didn't feel the tension build so effectively, it just happened to be there one moment after an overly long conversation that drew out the scene.

A moment of humour arrived in the form of the pipes. The French dairy farmer had been using a small pipe for some time in the scene, and while the German officer continued to keep his conversation going he drew the biggest Austrian type pipe you have ever seen, and it looked ridiculous.

During the scene I could feel myself switching off, lost by the meandering dialogue that was going nowhere quickly, and through it all the completely unsubtle visual pun of the pipe, something that seemed so out of character, so out of fit with the scene, that it pushed me back from the screen and into the cinema seat I was sitting in. The film had lost me.

I may be a little too hard on the opening scene, it did deliver well despite the poor build up to the moment, it proves a great introduction for Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz, even if it does play too long and feels deliberately drawn out.

From there on it was a struggle to get back into the film, and the two feelings continued throughout, the lack of subtlety that kept pushing me out of the reality of the story and the prolonged, tired conversations that continually skirted around the real point of the story and each scene. There was often just too much to say and not enough to do.

This was an interesting point for the story, the fact that I kept having the feeling that we were stopping in the quiet points between the actual story to pick them up for the film. We seemed to be caught up in the scenes where the people planned and reflected rather than the scenes where they did. The prime example being the flashbacks to see what happened to the survivors of the Basterds, this seemed like the recurring theme throughout the film, until the final sequences began to play out.

The film is segmented into chapters, which never really allowed the story to flow or the tension or the drama to build between different sequences. It often left the feeling that the chapters and sequences were a isolated and the film more a collection of moments. In a way like Pulp Fiction but with a single story. For me this was one of the key areas where the building of tension, suspense and story continuation was lost.

There were a couple of specific scenes that really did begin to prove exasperating, one such scene was in the basement tavern where the Basterds and their British agent are set to meet their contact and the elongated card guessing game and wordplay follows.

What I found particularly galling about this scene was the age old issue that harks back to the Bond villains and before, something that is very outdated these days. In the scene all the action is held off while the English soldier talks about his predicament, takes a drink, delays some more, talks through the situation again, then almost does a countdown for everyone of when to start kicking off.

I did't see this playing out that way at all, never mind real life, something about the element of surprise, catching them off guard, or using superior forces to try and knock the gun away from the German's hand, but not eloquently discussing the entire plan and throwing away their own hand.

What then ensues is a miracle of the human body where soldiers too drunk to stand, talk or obey superior officers, including an SS officer, manage to get their guns out of their holsters and hit their targets with amazing accuracy, far better than the sober soldiers with their weapons drawn or the barman with his shotgun ready to go.

Another Reservoir Dogs moment. There we have another issue with the film, the ongoing use of the Tarantino trademarks through the film where he uses the same framework for scenes. Indeed here it seems as though he's reusing moments from his other films and redressing them as World War II.

A personal annoyance for me these days is Tarantino's desire to insert a convoluted list in the dialogue, and when Diane Kruger's character reveals the two changes of the plan to Brad Pitt's character I groaned inside. The stilted, unnatural dialogue during these moments had begun to grate with me.

Later in the film events do come together and the story progresses forward with a bit more pace and purpose, and tension does start to build much better than before. However it still never reached a point where I felt I should have been at for the climax of the film, and the feelings I should have had at the closing scene and the final moments just never came through.

Subtlety also suffers in the closing sections of the film in a number of areas, the first being the use of David Bowie playing over the scenes where Shosanna Dreyfus, played by the intriguing Mélanie Laurent, gets ready for battle, preparing her war paint. It felt that it was overly loud and brash, at odds with the rest of the film, labouring the importance of the moment which so easily came out in interactions between her and her lover Marcel, played by Jacky Ido.

Shortly afterwards we see the atypical "I've just shot someone scene and I'm not looking at them" which proves that the film is missing more of that subtle feeling as we're hit with a brick repeatedly. Having just shot the officer and with the film showing on an automatic reel (something we see confirmed later on) the woman doesn't walk over to him and shoot him in the head to make sure, instead we see them looking out to the audience as the officer wriggles his arm around on the floor, his shooting arm no less. At this point the "oh I'm not really dead ploy" is more obvious than I've laid it out here and it's groan worthy. Considering her hatred for Germans I would have thought a shot or two to the head would have sorted it all out.

However it does keep coming and we watch the woman suddenly show concern and the hugely emotional music leaps in and the camera pulls up warning us for the big scene, duck for that brick again. It's something that happens throughout the film and really hurt it in my eyes. I just wish that Tarantino had held back, kept a few of those blatant moments off the screen and given a few less visual clues and we'd seen a much better film.

It's strange because in some areas he did hold back so well, the level of violence and gore is pulled back to some key moments where it really does have a meaning and an impact, and yet we watch the brick-like moments I've described leap forth and spoil it.

Another stylistic choice I struggled with was the random use of titles for the characters. We're first introduced to one of the Basterds with a huge big title to show us who the person is before their verbal introduction, however he's the only Basterd that gets that treatment. We get the odd other title a few times in the film, but they are for random characters in random moments in different styles, it almost feels that they've done this because in the first cut of the film the audience didn't understand who they were.

Acting wise I have to mention the totally unsuitable casting of Mike Myers as the British general, okay he can play an English character, but whenever you see him you're thinking comedy and Austin Powers, and I'm afraid that try as he might Tarantino could not pull that switch with us like he did with so many actors he's revived, like John Travolta. Instead it comes off looking just like a bad comedy scene, and the English officers seem to get an unfair deal with the stereotypical writing.

Saying that Michael Fassbender played his British officer character well, and his change from German to English was well done, and I do have to give Tarantino the credit for thinking of the whole accent twist in the script.

Brad Pitt was quite the disappointment for me as his character felt flat and forced, never feeling as though he fitted in anywhere and becoming quite a caricature of himself quite quickly, and that accent, oh dear me.

There are three roles that I think deserve the most credit out of the whole cast in Inglourious Basterds, and with the film's style in mind I'll go for the obvious first, Christoph Waltz. His performance was superb and had a certain elegance and emotional control through his scenes that really does deserve a hell of a lot of credit. The way he took his character through scenes where he verbally skirted around his hidden agenda, keeping his character seemingly naive and slightly endearing and then slowly stalking his prey until the moment he pounces was very well portrayed, if not built on screen.

When we see the raw power of the character near the end of the film it's a quite chilling performance, although again the power is lost through other aspects of the film, not the performance. It's a shame then, come the ultimate ending sequences, that his character becomes so weak and slimy. Still it's undoubtedly the performance of the film.

However there is an actress who is very close behind. Diane Kruger is superb during her moments in the film, the contrast of her charming, socialite character in her first scene to the closing moments are huge, and she performs those final scenes equally as chilling as Waltz's.

Shosanna Dreyfus, Mélanie Laurent, is another strong character, although she's very restrained for much of her on screen time, her unease and disgust during the strudel eating scene is handled well, and when her characters emotions really come to the fore.

A mention also needs to be given to the man who played Hitler, Martin Wuttke, his performance was powerful and dominating but equally gave the feeling of inadequacy. A brief but very key role.

Overall.pngInglourious Basterds was a lot less violent than I expected and it felt like a real attempt to concentrate more on story and the characters, trying to be a bit more real than previous Tarantino films. For me though, it ended up struggling to keep itself together to be even that.

It's fragmented, struggles with the pacing, loses track of the tension and the story between scenes, and is overly long in just about every scene, to the point of exasperation in some.

Throw in some of the completely unsubtle moments, the flat jokes, and some tiresome dialogue, and this was the most disappointing Quentin Tarantino film I've seen.

Of course there are good bits, and they come in the promise of scenes, the overall premise, and the performances of Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger and Mélanie Laurent.

I would advise staying clear until there's a director's cut released.

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More disappointing than Death Proof?

Well I actually enjoyed Death Proof, so I reckon it was more disappointing, especially as I had much higher hopes for Inglorious Basterds before I saw the film than I had for Death Proof.

With Death Proof I was expecting the same Tarantino film but with some old cars in it too and a superb Kurt Russell performance, ticked the boxes there.

For Inglorious Basterds it was hyped to be much more than that and something great. With all the problems I think it turned out to be a bigger drop from the pre-hype than Death Proof was.



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