Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Film review: Inglourious Basterds (**1/2)

I wish I still loved Quentin Tarantino's movies. I really do. At the very least, I wish I liked them more than I seem to these days. Maybe, I'm missing something. Who knows. But not since Jackie Brown have I walked out of a Tarantino film feeling dazzled or blown away by his invention and wit. Certainly there were moments during Kill Bill where I was thrilled, or amazed, exhilarated even, but, unlike his first three films, I felt it was over-long, self-indulgent and despite some wonderful dialogue and glorious set pieces, lacking in a commanding narrative that held it all together. It was as if I was watching a greatest hits reel loosely stitched to make a whole film (or two, in this case).

Now, I hated Death Proof, so let's skip past that, and move onto Inglourious Basterds which opens this week and which I liked more than either Kill Bill. And yet many of the same problems I had with those films Kill Bill, I had here, too. I'd read numerous people's thoughts on Basterds both prior to seeing it and since, many more positive than negative. Most recently, I had ingested those of my former Premiere colleague Glenn Kenny who outlined exactly what had been in my mind immediately upon leaving the film, that it's a two-and-a-half-hour movie made up of a very small number of scenes. Glenn puts it at around 16 "proper" scenes. I'd argue it's even less. Then again, he's seen it twice.

The film's divided into five chapters, the first, "Once Upon A Time... In Nazi Occupied France", runs 20 minutes and is a quite brilliant piece of cinema, astonishingly tense and well directed, influenced in no small measure by Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West, and which introduces the film's main villain "Jew Hunter" Colonel Hans Landa, deliciously played by Christoph Waltz. It's an audacious opening, one Hitchcock would have been proud of, but then the film goes off on its merry way, changing style and tone from chapter to chapter, some time following the Basterds of the title, led by Brad Pitt's scenery chewing Aldo Raine, other times debating the merits of German cinema and concentrating on the owner of a French movie theatre.

There's a brilliant sequence in a basement bar, involving a hilarious turn from Michael Fassbender as Archie Hicox, a film critic-cum-British officer, and a conflagration at the end featuring an image that will remain forever seared on my retinas. But again, to my mind, those moments, as great as they are, are missing a narrative spine worthy of them. Nevertheless, Inglourious Basterds should be seen — although I wish it had been more of The Dirty Dozen style romp Tarantino had spent the best part of a decade talking up — if only for two stellar performances. First, that of Waltz, the deserved winner of the Best Actor Award at Cannes, and, secondly, of Mélanie Laurent whose character, Shosanna, escapes Landa's hands at the beginning of the film only to find he and the entire leadership of the Third Reich filling the aisles of her cinema. And boy is she pissed.


Steve said...

you took half a star away.

did you change your mind yesterday or was that a typo?

Mark Salisbury said...

i changed my mind. in the end, three felt a tad generous.

Matt J said...

A masterpiece compared to DEATHPROOF -Tarantino engineers his own comeback. OTT in every way-Hans Landa the best camp villain since Hannibal Lecter.
"That's a bingo!"

Mark Salisbury said...

Agreed. A masterpiece compared to Deathproof. But compared to Dogs or Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown...

Just read David Denby in The New Yorker. He got it spot on.

Mark Salisbury said...

As did Manhohla Dargis in the New York Times.