REVIEW: “Inglourious Basterds” (**1/2)

Posted by · 12:06 pm · August 5th, 2009

Inglourious BasterdsQuentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” isn’t as indulgent as “Death Proof” or “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” but it doesn’t have the filmmaking panache and wit of the moving image to forgive it its sins like “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” either.  It’s a slightly more contained bout of silliness, but it’s silliness nevertheless.

The film is trademark bloated Tarantino, featuring scene after scene that could have been curtailed or expedited, which might have significantly affected an off-putting 150-minute running time.  But Tarantino lost his “no” men years ago, while distribution honcho Harvey Weinstein continues to serve as an enabler of sorts.

So more of the same is what we get.

But to look deeper at “Inglourious Basterds” is to find a world that might appeal to an angst-ridden child, perhaps.  The rage that courses through its veins is pure, concentrated tantrum, and somewhat passé at that.  After all, what thematic purpose is served by a film — however brazen and even “fun” in its historical revisionism — that takes relentless aim at the Nazis, of all foes?

The director might have found suitable commentary with a sense of parallel or metaphor, something, anything connecting the on-screen carnage to our own state of pent-up hatred toward foreign aggressors, for instance.  But that doesn’t seem to be visceral enough for Tarantino, who takes glee at a prolonged take of a human head being scalped, or the rat-a-tat obliteration of another under a hail of gunfire.

Boys will be boys, I guess.  But when will that cease to be enough for Tarantino apologists?

The narrative is pretty straight-forward: Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) heads up a squad of Jewish American soldiers — “The Basterds” — to spread terror throughout the Third Reich with a healthy dose of horrific violence.  Meanwhile, the Nazis’ Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) — “The Hunter of the Jews” — seeks out any stowaways left in the occupied French countryside.  The action builds toward a cinema-set finale and childhood revenge wrought, but it’s a tedious journey throughout.

Brad Pitt in Inglourious BasterdsThis isn’t to say there aren’t the usual sporadic artistic strokes.  An opening scene toys with building tension (thanks in large part to Waltz’s unsettling performance) like no other, a clinic for milking every beat for its full worth, and yet refusing to overstay its welcome.  Hitchcock would be proud.

Elsewhere, a riveting climax plays like a Nazi exodus to Dante’s Inferno, David Wasco’s production design forming a perfect storm with Bob Richardson’s photography, the haunting laughter of vengeance cackling away.

It’s affecting stuff, a nice tip of the hat to the filmmaker’s worship of the cinema, and proof of Tarantino’s undeniable abilities as a visual storyteller who thinks outside the box.  But…diamonds in the rough.

Brad Pitt’s histrionic southern swagger seems almost beneath him here, to say nothing of the fact that the performance is quite awful at times.  The actor has chosen to put virtually the entire portrayal into the vocal representation, offering up, ultimately, a caricature more so than a performance and one that doesn’t exactly provide any insight into the narrative or its themes.  Nor does it stand out as an intriguing romp within.

The supporting cast is largely capable, though certainly never exceptional, but the aforementioned Waltz definitely deserves the high marks he received out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  It’s a vivid new spin on a classic villain persona, the still-waters-run-deep kind of stomach-twisting presence that takes real skill to pull off.  Waltz makes it look pretty easy.  His resemblance to Tarantino regular Tim Roth is neither here nor there but interesting nevertheless.

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious BasterdsElsewhere, the always fantastic Daniel Brühl conveys a rather complicated character despite the thread being wasted and appearing disposable in the grander scheme of the film.

But the entire enterprise sinks under a sense of frivolity that can’t be shaken.  Though fortunately Tarantino has, for the most part, done away with an increasing tendency to wink at his audience through his heavily influenced work.

He instead seems to have locked himself in his room, oblivious to reaction.  It matters to him and him alone, which, to some extent, is rather admirable.  But is anyone actually paying attention anymore?

And truly, heaven help him if the final phrase of “Inglourious Basterds” is in any way representative of the director’s impression of his latest film.  Delusion might have gotten the better of him if so.




→ 49 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

49 responses so far

  • 1 8-05-2009 at 12:27 pm

    Marlowe said...

    Do you still like Waltz for a Best Supporting contender? God knows the winners have been favoring villains lately.

  • 2 8-05-2009 at 12:30 pm

    rosengje said...

    Pitt was the biggest problem in this for me (even though I loved it). The only thing that saved it from awful was that “Buongiorno.” And if that wasn’t hilarious enough, you have Waltz immediately breaking into fluent Italian. Those two lines were just perfect.

  • 3 8-05-2009 at 12:40 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Marlowe: For now, sure. He’s good enough, I think. Depends on the Oscar campaign and, to a lesser extent, box office/reviews.

  • 4 8-05-2009 at 12:58 pm

    James D. said...

    I liked Kill Bill Part Two so much better than Part One, but alas.

    I went in with high expectations for Death Proof, and was disappointed. I am going to enter this with the lowest of expectations, so it should work out.

  • 5 8-05-2009 at 1:28 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    I’m tremendously skeptical of a Waltz nomination for some reason. I feel that the Supporting Actor category might be even stronger by season’s end, and that its general silliness will prevent Waltz from penetrating the lineup. (I’m seeing Sarsgaard going supporting, and thus possibly having 2 men from the same film nominated together for the first time since ’91. Waltz is my #6 though.) I think he’ll definitely get a Golden Globe nomination though, like David Carradine. But beyond that…oy.

  • 6 8-05-2009 at 1:28 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Also…Hey, Original James D..

  • 7 8-05-2009 at 1:47 pm

    red_wine said...

    What an amusingly droll review. But I’m still really looking forward to this movie. I think the only reason Tarantino cast Pitt was that maybe he could use some of his box-office clout. I see no other reason.

    Tarantino can surely dazzle when he’s up to it. And I think his writing capabilities are rather under-appreciated. He’s 1 of the best writers of dialogue out there. Kris, do you think an original screenplay nomination might be possible? Tarantino himself seemed to think so.

  • 8 8-05-2009 at 1:50 pm

    Shakazoolu said...

    this review is bullshit. even if the film was a masterpiece you wouldn’t give it a good review. you had it in for this film since the beginning.

  • 9 8-05-2009 at 1:52 pm

    davidraider88 said...

    Your review is highly unsurprising considering your remarks about the film and about Tarantino in the months leading up to now. It’s as unsurprising as Guy’s gushing review of “Antichrist”. He wanted to give it a good review before he ever saw it just like I think you gave this film a negative review before you even saw it.

  • 10 8-05-2009 at 1:54 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    I like the way you think the other james, your just wrong about the movie, itll be the lovely bones, with whalberg and tucci or shutter island with dicaprio, ruffalo, haley, or kingsley

  • 11 8-05-2009 at 2:00 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Shakazoolu: Colorful. Wrong, but colorful.

    david: More silliness. I never expected to win with this lot if I did in fact end up disliking the film, so I’m not going to attempt to state the obvious here, which is that I’m a grown man capable of having his mind changed after reading an awful screenplay (and in fact, the film was better than it read on paper).

    So…whatever. Think what you like. My criticism is on the record and you can judge for yourself in two weeks. Simple as that.

  • 12 8-05-2009 at 2:01 pm

    Shakazoolu said...

    @davidraider88

    exactly!!

  • 13 8-05-2009 at 2:02 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    red_wine: I wouldn’t hold my breath for an original screenplay nomination, no. It’s no where near his best work and will probably suffer in voters’ minds as a result.

  • 14 8-05-2009 at 2:05 pm

    James D. said...

    Other James D., did you find me crashed into the harvester, by chance?

  • 15 8-05-2009 at 2:39 pm

    tim said...

    Tarantino is a genius, but he’s also up his own ass and needs someone to reign him in. Kill Bill would have been a masterpiece had it been one movie, there was so much material from both movies that could have been cut. And he just seems to continue to go down hill. But I guess he’ll do whatever he wants as long as people keep letting him.

  • 16 8-05-2009 at 2:41 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I pretty much agree with all of that, Tim.

  • 17 8-05-2009 at 2:42 pm

    Clayton said...

    I also preferred Kill Bill Vol. 2 (self-indulgence notwithstanding, it had plenty of panache, and wit) to Vol. 1 (which sort of played like an extended trailer for the second film/half, where most of the character and nuance resided), so I think I’ll probably enjoy IB, for the most part. I’m sure some of Kris’s criticisms are accurate, but they’re probably the sort of things that bother him as a viewer more than me.

    I do agree that the premise certainly has a regressive quality, but it really just comes down to the overall vibe of the piece. So, we’ll see.

  • 18 8-05-2009 at 2:43 pm

    rosengje said...

    Having read the original screenplay, Tarantino did a pretty good job of editing himself. Some of the most indulgent sequences (the black and white new wave stuff) were completely removed, and I thought he seemed more aware of the types of criticism that would come. I am really surprised that people are so mixed on this. I guess enjoying this for me was comparable to the way other critics say you just have to sit back and enjoy those awful summer blockbusters.

  • 19 8-05-2009 at 2:49 pm

    Daniel said...

    I really can’t take your criticism seriously (not that I ever have) but this time moreso. You and Lodge have been far too vocal with your anti-Tarantino tirades that I just sort of zone out -_-

    But regarding the film, I have reserved expectations. I’m not too fond of the casting, but I found the script to have its clever moments. And I think Tarantino is EXTREMELY underrated as a director; the man can certainly make things interesting through his stylistic choices and framing. Resulting in a nice compliment to his writing.

    So yeah, here’s hoping it’s good.

  • 20 8-05-2009 at 2:51 pm

    Daniel said...

    And I never understood why being indulgent is seen as a negative. If the damn guy is passionate about what he does and still manages to reel me in, the I could hardly care. It worked for Cassavetes, works for Tarantino.

  • 21 8-05-2009 at 2:51 pm

    Clayton said...

    “Tarantino is a genius, but he’s also up his own ass and needs someone to reign him in.”

    I agree with this, to a point. He probably does need a more merciless editor to trim his indulgences by at least 20 minutes or so.

    “Kill Bill would have been a masterpiece had it been one movie”

    I go back and forth on this. Part of me thinks it could’ve been the most awesome mix tape ever, but part of me thinks that the film wouldn’t have flowed, tonally, had the two halves been compressed together. The first half is the trippy, relatively fast-paced exercise in style and caricature, while the second half more reflective, subdued, and character/personality-driven. I’m sort of fine with the flicks as they are, though I wish the House Of Blue Leaves sequence were in colour. Not because I have anything against black-and-white photography (certainly not!), but because it wasn’t shot with b&w in mind (light and shadows, etc.), so visual depth and spatial relations aren’t as clear as they are in the colour version (which I’ve watched on YouTube).

  • 22 8-05-2009 at 2:52 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “not that I ever have”

    So…why are you reading, exactly? Or did you just want to make an irritating bitchy passing comment? Bravo.

  • 23 8-05-2009 at 3:07 pm

    Clayton said...

    So, Kris, a question…

    Are the folks here who end up liking the film going to be characterized by you as “Tarantino apologists”, or are you only going to direct that towards those who aren’t willing to concede that it’s flawed in some ways?

  • 24 8-05-2009 at 3:18 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Not necessarily, no. Depends on what I glean from the criticism, I guess.

  • 25 8-05-2009 at 3:22 pm

    Clayton said...

    Fair enough. :)

  • 26 8-05-2009 at 3:32 pm

    Daniel said...

    Ouch.

    I merely like to digest even the most trivial opinion for a bit. Good for a laugh.

  • 27 8-05-2009 at 3:39 pm

    Clayton said...

    The “passive” in passive-aggressive just left the building. Heh.

    Daniel: I suppose you should take solace in the fact that even one of the guys who doesn’t much care for Tarantino’s work, in general, gave IB a grade that’s, by common standards, just under a recommendation (which would be Three Stars). I expect we’ll see a number of 2 1/2 Star reviews, to go along with a bunch of 3 and 3 1/2 Star ones.

    I wonder…if the film ends up getting more negative reviews than positive ones (highly unlikely, but who knows?), will that force Armond White to give it a rave? ;)

  • 28 8-05-2009 at 3:57 pm

    moreland said...

    It seems like a lot of directors lately who have had proven success and hits, tend to put out more bloated work that would have been greater films had they been better edited to trim out some of the fat. Like Jackson’s Kong to Apatow’s Funny People for just a couple of examples. Also directors who tend to ignore or have proved that they don’t need to listen to any of the “no” men like M. Night and Tarantino. My question is if this is a new trend in cinema or have directors been doing this for decades after enjoying a string of success?

  • 29 8-05-2009 at 3:58 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    What’s the big deal with going into a movie expecting to feel one way about it? I do that with every film. I hate Tarantino so if I was forced to see this I would definitely expect it to suck. But if I’m waltzing into a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie then I’m expecting to get my socks knocked off. It’s not based on fairy dust, it’s based on what they’ve given us in the past.

  • 30 8-05-2009 at 4:07 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “It’s as unsurprising as Guy’s gushing review of “Antichrist”. He wanted to give it a good review before he ever saw it.”

    Yeah, I won’t lie to you, Davidraider: I did want to like the film. Just as I want to like pretty much any film I go and see, particularly ones from filmmakers I admire. I had no idea that was a bad thing, but I’ll be sure to adjust my attitude.

    (And for what it’s worth, my review did actually make note of the film’s conceptual problems.)

    PS. Given that I ended up giving “Broken Embraces” — my most anticipated film of the year, and one I freely admit I talked up a lot on these pages before seeing it — a somewhat muted 3-star review, you’ll forgive me for remaining relatively unconcerned about matters of critical bias.

  • 31 8-05-2009 at 4:26 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “Kill Bill” is compromised – neither stand-alone half works as a stand-alone film. Harvey “let’s milk it” ruined the structural DNA of what would’ve been a three hour cult movie.

    “Death Proof” an afterthought – and one that should never be confused with a work that’s design to live outside of the gimmick that produced it – I stand by this.

    ^^Pay no attention to what Tarantino says otherwise. He has a movie to stand by and sell to his base.

    I look forward to “Inglourious Basterds” – I have no pretense about a Quentin Tarantino movie except that it’ll never feel like anything but a Quentin Tarantino movie.

  • 32 8-05-2009 at 4:32 pm

    Chris138 said...

    Not a fan of Tarantino and didn’t have high hopes for this, yet I feel that I’ll end up seeing it anyway. Go figure.

  • 33 8-05-2009 at 5:07 pm

    entertainmenttoday.. said...

    My problem is selling the film as a dirty Dozen type action film and getting an almost 3 hr talkfest. That’s been most of the reviews Ive read. That guarantees disappointment.

    chuck

  • 34 8-05-2009 at 5:34 pm

    Andrew L. said...

    Chapter 9 of Volume is better than most of anything in Volume 1; The “Which ‘R’ are you?” dialogue, Elle’s subsequent monologue, the incredible fight sequence between Beatrix and Elle. Hannah should have been nominated, IMO.

  • 35 8-06-2009 at 3:09 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Talk about fanboy hate. Jeez. The review is probably on the nose. I’m not expecting much beyond some flicker of entertainment but QT definitely lost his vibe.

  • 36 8-10-2009 at 7:51 pm

    boltbucket said...

    “After all, what thematic purpose is served by a film — however brazen and even “fun” in its historical revisionism — that takes relentless aim at the Nazis, of all foes?”

    I enjoyed reading your review, Kris, but this criticism puzzles me when you level it at Tarantino.

    What thematic purpose has ever been served by any of his movies, other than the simple joy of moviemaking?

  • 37 8-12-2009 at 10:27 am

    ColinS said...

    For all the original “fans” Tarantino has lost, there are more than enough new ones to replace them. Me, he has not lost me from hello (“Reservoir Dogs” which in my opinion is his weakest, and oh yes I rate “Death Proof” one notch higher that RD.) If one cannot understand why “Kill Bill” (the whole thing) is a more mature work that “Pulp Fiction” (which should have been Oscar Best Picture for that year), I pity your understanding of epic mythological journeys of some of our best world literature. I am looking forward to see “Inglourious Basterds” as I have seen Tarantino grow more sophisticated with each of his ”Mt Everest” films (three todate PF, KB, IB). The value for me in ALL of Tarantino films has been the quite rich multilayered subtexts. That’s why he such a strong voice in cinema. If viewers see only the surface (you know the “silly” “self indulgence”), they are missing the full meal.

  • 38 8-12-2009 at 10:38 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    The full meal? Do tell…

  • 39 8-20-2009 at 8:09 pm

    AL said...

    this site seems to be the only one that think Basterds is a bad, or mediocre film. Critics all over are praising this, many giving it 4 stars and thinking its Oscar worthy (especially this year, with the 10 nominations for Best Picture) I’m almost certain this will have more of a chance then Public Enemies or Capitalism: A Love Story of getting nominated.

  • 40 8-20-2009 at 8:23 pm

    AL said...

    had to post again because I forgot to mention where you state “He instead seems to have locked himself in his room, oblivious to reaction.” This troubles me because, as I mentioned above, critical reaction is overwhelming positive. You and like 20 other critics on Earth didn’t like the film, many liked it, and most loved it.

  • 41 8-20-2009 at 9:17 pm

    davidraider88 said...

    I wonder who’s feeling sheepish now?

  • 42 8-24-2009 at 12:01 pm

    Sean said...

    I was so disappointed with this film. I loved all Tarantino’s stuff, except Death Proof, but this was painful. Brad Pitt was terrible in a one note performance that rested entirely in his vocal register. There were some great scenes, but very few and extremly far between.

  • 43 8-24-2009 at 12:04 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    David: If you mean me, then no, I don’t feel sheepish at all. Why should I? Because I have a different opinion than the majority?

  • 44 8-24-2009 at 12:05 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    AL: Why is someone else’s opinion “troubling” to you?

    Boy, this one brought out the nutjobs…

  • 45 8-24-2009 at 12:11 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Outlets that posted negative reviews of “Inglourious Basterds”:

    Philadelphia Inquirer
    Wall Street Journal
    Washington Post
    The New Yorker
    The Hollywood Reporter

    Not exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel. Are their opinions somehow invalid because their colleagues disagreed?

    In fact, if you note the “top critics” section of the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page, you’ll see the film sits at a rather mixed 74%. It took the fanboy press to push the film into the 80s, and really, who wouldn’t expect this to be in their wheelhouse?

    I didn’t like the movie. I explained as much in my review. Stop trying to start a fight because you’re so transparently annoyed that I’m not on the bandwagon and feel free to engage the actual points I made in the review. Or don’t. It’s yesterday’s news at this point anyway.

  • 46 8-24-2009 at 5:09 pm

    Jeremy said...

    I agree that Tarantino only makes movies for himself, and I’m occasionally irritated by his overt stylistic flourishes, but just because he’s a schmuck doesn’t make his movies any less enjoyable. I don’t think “Inglorious Basterds” is a great film (and nowhere near as good as “Pulp Fiction”), but I still found it consistently entertaining and occasionally brilliant.

    The opening scene you mentioned, for example, is a masterstroke of suspense filmmaking (oddly enough, the building of tension reminded me of Michael Haneke — anyone else make that association?). I also adored the opening of the final act, with Mélanie Laurent applying makeup in preparation for war (the music is a hoot), as well as Waltz’s interrogation of Diane Kruger for the way it transforms on a dime from sinister dread to stunning violence.

    On the whole, the movie is too silly to be truly great, but it’s still great fun. Your review is obviously your own, Kris, and more power to you. The only facet I’m disappointed that you failed to mention is Laurent’s performance. I don’t know if you disagree or if you simply didn’t have the room, but I thought Shoshanna was the most well-developed character in the movie, and Laurent found the precise combination of feistiness and fear.

    Just my thoughts.

  • 47 8-24-2009 at 5:29 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I wasn’t particularly affected by her performance, actually. Or the character (as written, anyway).

  • 48 8-24-2009 at 11:14 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    I just saw “Inglorious Basterds.” What a silly movie. Yes, there are diamonds in the rough, but that’s it. There isn’t enough of the Inglorious Basterds in “Inglorious Basterds.”

    Michael Fassbender gives the second best performance behind Waltz. Sign Fassbender up for everything. This guy will go the distance.

  • 49 8-25-2009 at 2:00 am

    Anthony said...

    I would like nothing more than for the terms fanboy and hater to die horrible deaths.

    Can anyone legitimately like or dislike something anymore? Is there any middle ground? Every film related argument seems to devolve into these two terms being hurled in every direction. The unfortunate fact being that both sides feel they’ve won by destroying the credibility of the opposition.

    In your own mind, that person is forever tainted as though they’ve decided to lie for no apparent reason other than to be a “fanboy” or a “hater”. They cannot be making an honest, subjective critique. They’ve already decided, hence making their entire experience or argument invalid.

    Clearly, this doesn’t further or advance film discussion, it destroys it. How can people be respectful and debate film when they are immediately insinuating someones credibility is less than true about the very subject they’re discussing?

    I enjoyed every second of Inglourious Basterds. I couldn’t stand Death Proof. So where do I fit in on QT? Am I a fanboy or a hater? For each movie, the opposing side would label me one or the other. Regardless of the facts.

    Now, don’t misunderstand. I don’t deny that there are fanboys out there. But, it’s infuriating that every time a large segment of the population genuinely likes a film they are labeled as “fanboy” “sheeple” by the resistance movement. And then in return, the people who genuinely like the film proceed to label the resistance as “elitist snobs” or “haters”. Despite the fact that they may have legitimate points and criticism. Enough is enough. By destroying both sides natural credibility on a piece of art (founded through opinion), no one can have an honest discourse.

    We all have to keep in mind, the beautiful thing about art is that it’s entirely based upon the lens of the viewer. Certain things hit home more for certain people. Certain topics ring more true to some than others. Despite sitting right next to each other and seeing the exact same frames portrayed over the exact same screen, sometimes we’re going to disagree. We are too shaped by our own experiences to possibly have a uniform reaction to art. And that’s what makes it great. Don’t destroy it.

    (Didn’t know where else to post this, but almost all of the IB talkbacks, here and elsewhere, have been almost unbearable with the slander wars. Apologies for the rant.)