Inglorious Bastards

August, 2009, Thriller

Directed by:Quentin Tarantino

Starring:Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, and Til Schweiger




Writer/director Quentin Tarantino, pop culture’s idiot savant, burst on the Hollywood scene 17 years ago with Reservoir Dogs, a low budget heist-gone-wrong flick which demonstrated that low-lifes could be dramatically riveting. Two years later he proved he wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan; Pulp Fiction became an instant classic, providing grist for countless film-school seminars while spawning dozens of inferior knock-offs. A poorly-accepted dramatization of an Elmore Leonard novel starring Robert De Nero came next, (Jackie Brown) followed by the Kill Bill diptych and finally the self-consciously trashy Death Proof, the director’s half of the faux-schlock double feature Grindhouse. His fans relish each and every item in his oeuvre and there’s no doubt that Tarantino’s unique ear for street-level language, visually stunning action scenes and bizarre but insightful references to America’s mass-market consumerism have stamped him as a cinematic original. Thus far he’s managed to offend, assault and mystify his audiences without ever boring them; even when he dares you to object to the content of his absurd storylines or the complete degeneracy of his characters, watching a Tarantino movie is never dull.


Until now.


Tarantino’s ability to generate a sense of menace may be the finest element in his screenwriting skills; his characters toy with each other, as anxious to assert psychological mastery as they are physical intimidation. The combination of the two and his genius for creating scenes in which the former inevitably leads to the latter make for great viewing; but like the child who and goes on and on far too long when asked by his parents to sing for guests, Tarantino succumbs here to an age-old screenwriter’s trap; he’s fallen in love with his own dialogue.


Inglorious beings with a classic Tarantino set piece; a verbal sparring match, set in 1941, between a terrified Gallic farmer and Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) the unctuous Gestapo officer charged with rooting out the last remaining Jews in Nazi-occupied France. This initial interrogation scene precedes a deliberately erratic storyline, (annoyingly punctuated by chapter titles) which involves the attempt by an American/Jewish commando squad headed by Lt. Aldo Raine, (a Tennessee hillbilly played by Brad Pitt with an inexplicable rictus-inspired grin) to destroy the Nazi leadership by blowing up a movie theater in which they will witness the premier of a new German war film subsidized by The Reichsminister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Along the way, Britt’s commandos slay countless enemy soldiers in one blood-splattering display after another; British spies & members of the German underground die in a Rathskeller shoot-out and various scenes of torture-for-information and scalping are displayed with the director’s patented comic-book explicitness.


All this mayhem is encased in a veritable tutorial on the pre-war German film industry; references to now legendary directors, classic movie titles from that time period and even a disquisition on the chemical nature of the film stock employed at the time burden the movie with so many irrelevant distractions one can be forgiven for silently screaming at the screen…”for God’s sake, get on with it”. Inglorious Bastards running-time clocks in at a whopping 2 hours and 32 minutes, nearly half of which is spent in static conversations that grow turgid - - and this from a film-maker known for the nearly manic momentum of his films. Unfortunately, Inglorious Bastards sags, then lags and finally gags its audience with horrific climatic carnage as U.S. Jewish soldiers engage in the kind of bestial slaughter for which the Nazis themselves are so justifiably vilified.


Nothing Tarantino does is completely worthless of course; Waltz’s performance is Oscar worthy, the dialogue crackles even when it runs on far too long, some of the interior scenes are lit to eerie perfection and the director’s ability to heighten the dramatic effect of his shots by presenting them from an unexpected point of view make sections of Inglorious quite interesting.


Some critics have expressed unease with Tarantino’s flippant reversal of historical fact (Jews indiscriminately killing Germans) but I think that quite misses the point - - the director’s sympathies are clearly on the side of history. But by turning the very real and devastating events of WW II into a caricatured, cartoon-ish fantasy, Tarantino trivializes events about which his target audience (males 18-35) knows far too little. In the end, that’s the most egregious failing of this referential ode to Tarantino’s film-making skills.


The Verdict? Three “selves”; a self-conscious movie by a self-absorbed director in danger of drowning in self-regard.

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