The first time I saw the trailer for Inglourious Basterds, I found it pretty upsetting. My initial impression was that Tarantino wanted to make another movie full of violence and gore and made a period piece so that when people inevitably squawked about how bloody and violent it was, he could say, “Yeah, but it’s Nazis! Who doesn’t like killing Nazis?”
Despite this admittedly presumptive feeling, I stood in line and paid my money to see it Friday night. Reviewers had been throwing out words like “brilliant” and “inspired” and “visionary” and I’m not a person to bitch about a movie I haven’t seen, because… well, because that would make me no better than a sign-toting soccer mom who hasn’t seen Harry Potter but is still pretty sure it’s turning twelve-year-olds to devil worship.
(Spoilers from here on in, so consider yourself warned.)
Verdict? I didn’t love it and I still feel like the violence was over the top, but there was a lot to like. Honestly, if the titular Basterds hadn’t been in it at all and it had just been the story of Shosanna and the Nazi colonel Hans Landa, I probably would have come out singing its praises, because Shosanna’s story was the one that spoke to me. A judicious edit would have shaved a good 45 minutes off the movie, which wouldn’t have hurt it and would have kept me from slouching down in my seat two hours in, wishing I’d brought a camelbak.
Tarantino knows how to craft a scene, there’s no arguing with that. The first chapter is like a short film all on its own and it’s truly breathtaking and heartbreaking. There are two more of these suspense-building scenes in the movie and I don’t think it’s a leap to wonder if Tarantino came up with these first and then built the rest of the movie around them.
The Basterds themselves just aren’t very fleshed out. Their story sort of weaves in and out and they certainly supply the bulk of the gore, happily bashing in Nazi skulls and carving swastikas in foreheads. But their scenes seem dropped in so that when they’re needed for the climax, we know who they are, but no more. They’re charicatures – the hardass Southern Lt., the hothead from Boston, the silent psychotic German – and not much more.
As it is, I’m not sure what Tarantino’s point is supposed to be here. Is it just a bit of testosterone-heavy American fantasy? Or is he trying to make a deeper statement and I’m just missing it? I appreciated Zoller’s angst at seeing himself a glorified murderer on the big screen (OMG, Nazis had FEELINGS?!), but it was completely wiped away by the climax where it wasn’t good enough to lock the bad guys in and burn them to death. That wasn’t horrific enough, so we had to have our Jewish-American Basterds hosing the Nazis (and their dates, guilty by association, I guess) down with bullets as they crawled all over themselves trying to escape. Lovely.
I was also dissatisfied by the storyline wrap-up for both Shosanna and Bridget von Hammersmark. One was grossly out of character from what we’d seen throughout the movie and the other was just gross.
As for performances, I’ll echo the sentiment of literally every person I’ve talked to and say that Christoph Waltz is a gem and steals the entire movie. He brings charm and charisma to a role that could have been a cardboard cutout and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. Also impressive were Melanie Laurent as Shosanna and Til Schweiger’s Sgt Stiglitz, the crazy Nazi-killing German the Basterds bust out of prison.
Once the hype dies down I’ll watch it again, and maybe I’ll find the brilliance in the story.