Oh, Quentin Tarantino, how you seem to frustrate me. Despite the critical acclaim, the box office and the Academy Award nominations, I feel somewhat differently towards Inglourious Basterds. And it’s not just the spelling.
There are really good things in this film and some really annoying things. The combination and the length of the film – two and a half hours! One hundred and fifty-three minutes of this – make the frustration so agonising. The first scene alone feels so long – twenty minutes of set-up. I know that Tarantino is known for having his characters talk and talk, but this felt ridiculous. The scene in the basement bar is another example; the end part of the scene is great stuff, but it takes so long to get there, with lots of talking and talking and talking. The ending of that scene is amazing, and I understand why talk was needed to set it up, but it didn’t make it more enjoyable.
I don’t want to seem completely negative; there were good things. The guaranteed Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor, Christoph Waltz, is amazing as Colonel Hans Landa, the Jew Hunter – he is smart, scary, creepy, electric, mercurial, powerful, and thoroughly deserving of all the awards. There are other actors who did well – Diane Kreuger as a German actress and double agent; Michael Fassbender is really good as Lt Archie Hicox, the film critic who speaks perfect German, channelling the spirit of George Sanders (interestingly, the role was originally earmarked for Simon Pegg, who had to pull out due to scheduling conflicts; I think Pegg is brilliant, but I can’t imagine him doing the role the same justice as Fassbender). I also rather liked Brad Pitt as Lt Aldo Raine, but that brings me to another annoyance – the film was set up as a group of Jewish Nazi-hunting soldiers on a mission to kill Nazis behind enemy lines, but that’s less than half the film; I felt slightly cheated.
Also, when did ‘Na-zee’, with a short ‘a’, become the way of pronouncing it? We always said ‘Nah-zi’, with a long ‘a’ – did I miss a memo or something? It really irritated me. And the idea that all Germans were Nazis is something that bugs me – yes, the Nazi party controlled the war effort, but not all Germans who fought were Nazis; it seems like a rewriting of history. But, then, that’s what this film is all about – the history of the second world war as imagined by Tarantino, something that makes me uncomfortable. This is probably an over-reaction but, to me, it undermines the sacrifices of those people who fought in the war, suggesting that everything would’ve been fine, just as long as we killed Hitler in a cinema. This fantasy might amuse some, especially Tarantino, but it felt cheap.
I drifted back into negativity again, didn’t I? I can’t help it – when I was watching the film, I could feel the audience not being sure how to feel about it. There was nervous laughter at the attempted jokes, there was shifting in seats as people got bored and realised the film wasn’t what they expected. Then there was Tarantino’s nepotism in the form of Eli Roth – yes, he might look the part of Donny ‘The Bear Jew’ Donnovitz, but that flies out of the window when he starts talking. Again, this was a role for another actor – in this case, Adam Sandler, who I could definitely believe in the role. Then there was the fetishistic glee with which Tarantino showed the strangulation of a woman – apparently, it was his hands, rather than Walz’s – which was meant to be shocking and disturbing but I just found rather creepy. Sorry, distracted again.
Back to good things – Tarantino can shoot a good scene: his films always look really good, even when they are boring (Death Proof, I mean you). There’s something about the way he frames a shot that is quite beautiful. And, even though I thought the film was too long, he does love the spoken word and I admire that, especially in the current climate of CGI-led blockbusters. Tarantino has a very specific vision of his world of cinema and I’m glad he sticks to his guns, even if I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. I don’t begrudge Tarantino his success with this film, but I found Inglourious Basterds a frustrating cinematic experience, consisting of some great cinema but also annoying self-indulgence and a film that was too long for its own good. The most impressive aspect is that this was successful American film that was mostly in foreign languages – half the dialogue was in German or French, with a smattering of Italian.