Movie Review | Inglourious Basterds
Movie summary: In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers coincides with a theatre owner's vengeful plans for the same. (IMDb)
Okay, I think I finally have to put my hands up and admit it: Quentin Tarantino's movies are just not for me. And this is despite me liking Inglourious Basterds more than most of his other movies. I think the tone he seems to favour and his cinematic sensibilities are just not on my wavelength, but I can definitely see why others might still like them.
Let's start with that tone and how Tarantino mixes drama, humour and action. Most of the best comedies will have small moments of drama to flesh out the characters, while many of the best dramas will have at least brief moments of levity to do likewise. And the best action movies will contain either or both to again ground the characters and get the audience to like them.
The problem I have with Tarantino's movies, which is also present in Inglourious Basterds, is that the whiplash between these tones tend to be a little too sharp and go too far in a particular direction for the characters to remain relatable, instead becoming almost cartoonish. Weirdly, it's the most unbelievable characters who end up being the best.
Just as an example, take Brad Pitt's Aldo Raine, who is loud, brash and over the top from start to finish. Every scene he appears in plays into this and, as a result, his character feels consistent across the course of the movie. This might sound like an insult to some, but his character never surprises you - although I mean that in the sense of he stays true to who he is throughout.
Some of the other Basterds have some scenes that are played for broad comedy, others for something more akin to gallows humour, over-the-top action and also flat-out cruel violence. They never really feel like people with their own lives and history, but action figures Tarantino can drop into any scene because there's so little to them that it doesn't really matter what they're being asked to do.
Then there's Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, who is a tricky character to pin down. He can go from playful humour to murderously threatening (and plain murderous) and have it feel in character, but that character still felt a little fake to me. What I mean is that I can see people like Landa actually existing, flipping between laughs and threats on a whim, I just don't find him a particularly satisfying character to follow.
As for Landa's murderous nature, to get into that means getting into one other big issue I have with Inglourious Basterds, and that's the movie's attitude towards violence against women. Landa is responsible for the most drawn-out, disturbing kill in the movie as he slowly strangles a woman to death - note that it was Tarantino literally choking the actress in question because he didn't trust anyone else to do it properly.
There's also a waitress gunned down for... well, appearing in a scene where guns are fired. Then there's one other woman who is killed, granting a moment of victory to a Nazi soldier - which just feels weird. The reason it's weird is because the woman in question doesn't expect to survive her current situation anyway, so why give a Nazi a win?
Other criticisms? Some of the action can be over the top - going too far in the direction of being either cartoonish or cruel, but alienating me either way. Also, some scenes do go on just that little bit too long. Inglourious Basterds is just over 2.5 hours long, but I think you could easily cut 30 minutes out of the movie and lose very little of any value.
Basically, what I'm saying is that Tarantino needs an editor or a producer who'll stand up to him and refuse to let him get away with indulging himself. I'm sure there'd be plenty of Tarantino fans who'd disagree and they're right - as far as their enjoyment of his movies go - but I think this is probably the biggest reason why his movies just don't click with me.
There are long stretches or scenes in his other movies that I genuinely love, but those scenes tend to either keep to a single tone, or shift subtly rather than the usual whiplash. There are a whole ton of pieces in Inglourious Basterds that I really, really like and, like Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood, make me feel that I'd like to watch the movie again, but then I get to one of those moments of indulgence and I think that maybe once is enough.
And just to hammer home that point, there is a lot in Inglourious Basterds that I genuinely love. I know this post has been largely critical, but they're more things that persist across Tarantino's work than anything specific to this movie, so I can't really blame Inglourious Basterds for being a Tarantino movie - if you like his stuff, you'll like this too. If not, I'd still recommend watching it for the truly great stuff and then move on.
Inglourious Basterds is enjoyable for long stretches, but there are enough moments of indulgence in both what happens on screen and for how unnecessarily long some scenes drag on for to think too highly of it - he seriously needs a proper editor. Also, there are some serious issues with how Tarantino depicts women in this movie - not even including the usual foot fetish of his.