Thursday, 23 December 2010

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino is Marmite. It seems people either love or loathe his films. One thing that is normally accepted is that his best work is behind him though. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction set the world alight in a way which in which Tarantino has struggled to keep aflame. That's not to say his work is without merit. For me he is one of the soul film-makers who is making genuine cinematic icons. From the Reservoir Dogs boys in their smart cut suits through to Uma Thurman in Yellow Bike leathers wielding a samurai sword. If you have seen a Tarantino movie you'll remember it.

So what of Tarantino's self proclaimed masterpiece? well to watch Inglourious Basterds  it might help to know a little about it's production. Tarantino started the script in the mid-ninties - gave up- wrote and shot Kill Bill and Death proof then returned to finish the job. Such a long time frame in the writing process normally suggests the dreaded writers block. Whereas, Pulp Fiction was written in Amsterdam during a matter of weeks, Basterds has been through more guises than a gender confused chameleon. It changed from film to 2 part to mini series then back to film over the years and the changes have taken their toll. It's plot is split into chapters. Firstly we have Shosanna Dreyfuss, a young Jewish girl who escapes the Nazi massacre of her family. Years later she inherits a cinema which is chosen to house a premiere full of Nazi topbrass. Meanwhile, a crack team of Jewish hard nuts with Apache tendencies are planning to assassinate Hitler at the same premiere.

Inglourious Basterds has been billed as both Tarantino's "men on a mission" movie and a Spaghetti Western rolled into Nazi Europe . So with such a difficult writing process, it is no wonder that the film turns out to slightly clunky in places. The first clash of ideas arrives between Tarantino's dialogue style and the genre style. Tarantino loves fast paced, witty interchanges with a healthy slab of in-jokes showing off his film geek roots. Unfortunately the deliberate timing of a Spaghetti Western is where the magic lies. Sergio Leone didn't even give Clint Eastwood a name!

This is not to say that the dialogue is without purpose; Christopher Waltz as Col. Hans Lander depicts an SS officer so irritatingly polite that it'll have you begging for his blood. Reminiscent of Funny Games his scenes are fraught with tension as he goes from gracious to gratuitous in a split second. Having said that there is often a feeling that Tarantino is trying to squeeze as much as his research into the dialogue as possible (quick lecture on Goebbels's cinematic achievements anyone?). There is even a Samuel L. Jackson voice-over explaining the reason why burning film rolls is a good plot device to use. All this historical detail in a film about a fictional Jewish assassination of Hitler. Think of it like a Da Vinci Code for kids who read comic books.

 So what about our eponymous heroes. "The Basterds" are a crack squad of Nazi hunting Jews led by Aldo the Apache (Brad Pitt). They kill and scalp Nazi's for fun and send the survivors back with a Swash sticker carved into their foreheads. The first thing to notice is Pitt's role. I like the idea of his character but the execution is just strange. I have no idea why he chose to jutt his chin out and pull a funny face for the role but it must have been hard to hold it for such a long time especially as he apparently stayed in character of camera!

The main problem I have with Inglourious Basterds is that it's too short. A film with so many different elements takes time to gel properly. Melanie Laurent is brilliant as Shosanna Dreyfuss but from her introduction as an adult character it only takes two more scenes before she is in a room with Josef Goebbel's and Hans Lander. Similarly, I would have loved to have seen some practice missions with "The Basterds" as it is we go on a triple jump of scenes with them from introduction- torture scene then straight into final mission. I just feel there are too many points where the audience should be drawn in but due to time constraints we are jolted into the next part of the plot.

Scores 3 out of 5

Twitter Fitter Review

Could have been so much more. Some brilliant performances and the film is riddled with comic elements that make it a worthwhile watch.

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