Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
CC2K offers a SPOILER free review for the casual Tarantino fan.
Disclaimer: If it takes two hands to count the number of times you've seen any of Quentin Tarantino's films and/or you've seen every one he's ever directed, this review might not be for you. On the other hand, if you've seen Reservoir Dogs and/or Pulp Fiction and are at least aware that he's done some other stuff, chances are you'll find this review informative.
Inglourious Basterds is a, not quite odd, more sort of a quirky movie. I realize there's nothing really revelatory about that statement. Aren't most of Tarantino's films a little quirky? His movies often seem (granted, if that disclaimer above wasn't clear, I'm no Tarantino expert) to be a strange mix of comedy and drama. And neither of those genres are presented in typical fashion. Take, for example, that infamous scene near the end of Reservoir Dogs. One moment Mr. Blonde is preparing to torture that cop (not funny), the next moment Michael Madsen is doing that goofy little dance to "Stuck in the Middle with You" (just try not to snicker while watching this), and the very next moment he's cutting the poor bastard's ear off with a straight razor (back to not funny). A WTF? seems appropriate here, wouldn't you say?
I bring this up because Inglourious Basterds is quirky in that signature Tarantino way, quirky in the way Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are. There are moments of very serious drama, moments of very brutal violence, and genuinely funny moments that in many cases are separated by mere seconds and occur in the same scene. It doesn't seem like anyone should be able to string these very disparate elements together into an entertaining film, but Tarantino manages to do it. If you saw and enjoyed Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, I think you are likely to enjoy Inglorious Basterds. If you're a bigger Tarantino fan and/or a sharper film critic than I, you might have reason to be disappointed.
Briefly, Inglourious Basterds follows a fictional squad of Jewish American soldiers during WWII led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) dubbed the Basterds who do one thing, and one thing only, "kill Nazis". You've probably gathered as much from watching any of the trailers for this film. But that's really only half of the story. Inglourious Basterds is a story told in five chapters, each serving to slowly, ultimately bring two very different parties with like-minded goals together. That goal, to end the war in a single night, can be accomplished because of a rare opportunity concerning The Fuhrer and, of all things, a film premiere. That's all I'll say, so as not to spoil any of the movie for you.
Though the chapter structure works well enough to transition between these rather different parties and their accompanying differences in mood and tone, I tend to think that it's a contrived and (dare I say) lazy plot device. That may be sacrilege to say, given that it could be considered part of Tarantino's signature style and he's made such excellent use of it in the past (re: Pulp Fiction). Perhaps the structure of Inglourious Bssterds doesn't hold up well to comparison with some of his earlier films, or maybe it's simply that he's gone to this particular well one too many times. In any event, it does lend itself to compartmentalized reviewing, i.e. it's easy to say I liked this chapter more than that one, and this chapter was my favorite. Personally, chapters 2 and 4 are my favorites, while chapters 1 and 4 seem to me to be the most distinctive of Tarantino's style.
With the exception of the Basterds played by the aforementioned Pitt, as well as those played by Eli Roth (Sgt. Donny Donowitz) and Til Scweiger (Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz), most of the rest of the Basterds are given short-shrift, and many even go unnamed. This is at once disappointing and perfectly acceptable. Pitt plays Aldo Raines – a proud son of Tennessee – with an outrageous (and almost unerringly hilarious) southern accent (I'm almost gleefully curious to hear from fellow CC2Ker (and Tennessee native-born) Tony Lazlo if Pitt's accent is even remotely authentic). Christoph Waltz pretty much steals the entire damn movie with his portrayal of the film's villain Col. Hans "The Jew Hunter" Landa.
In the end, while Inglourious Basterds is fun and entertaining, I'm not sure that there's anything really profound or groundbreaking here. If you're a die hard Tarantino fan, I imagine you'll analyze this movie on levels I haven't even considered, and you might come out of the theater disappointed. If, like me, you are a casual fan of Tarantino and have enjoyed one or two his films in the past, I think you'll have a damn good time with the Basterds.