Inglourious Basterds review 2
From The Quentin Tarantino Archives
Review by Irfaan Akudi
Inglourious Basterds – 9/10
Ok, I just got back from my 2nd viewing of Inglourious Basterds. After the first time I watched it, which was yesterday the 15th August at 8:05pm, I was in an unusual situation of having an overwhelming mix of feelings. Whilst I did not have any seriously negative views about the film, there were many aspects which completely surprised me (I will mention some of these in the following review). Anyway, the anticipation, excitement and sudden shock that I would be able to watch it much earlier than I had originally thought worked against me and I was unable to prepare myself for this huge phenomenon – that of the release of a new QUENTIN TARANTINO FILM. Therefore, I thought it best to attend a 2nd viewing as soon as possible so as to be able to have a predominantly solid view of the film.
What struck me first about Inglourious Basterds was the lack of a pre-credit opening scene or a credit-opening scene that we are used to from a Tarantino film. So already, it felt “different”. However, having the title of the film displayed as Tarantino himself has hand-written it immediately tells you that it IS a Quentin Tarantino film, and one that he considers personal to himself.
The opening chapter “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France” is one of the most solid scenes QT has ever filmed. It has a bit of everything in there. When I first saw the “Hans Landa” clip on You Tube, I started salivating. It was the closest QT has come to replicating the feel and tone of my second all-time favourite film – The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Well, seeing the whole chapter for myself, it was very Leone-like. I particularly marvelled at how the screen ratio changes (widens) as the farmer’s daughter moves aside the large cloth hanging from the washing line to reveal Col. Hans Landa and his men arriving in their vehicles. The conversation between Perrier LaPadite and Landa is both suspenseful and insightful. There are a few moments of humour, but the scene plays out very tensely. The climax is brilliant.
A lot of reviewers claimed this film to be very funny, and getting funnier as it went along. Indeed, during my second viewing, the guy behind me was in constant fits of laughter throughout, and the humour was the very first thing he mentioned as the end credits rolled. Personally, I wouldn’t consider this film to be comical. It does have a lot of humour, but it is mostly very dark. This film is predominantly serious in not just the tone but many other filmic aspects and that surprised me somewhat. I mentioned on this forum a few years ago and again before the script was released that I would like to see a “serious” QT film. A lot of people claimed this to be “Kill Bill set in WWII”. Whilst there are a few things similar to what happens in Kill Bill like a couple of music tracks, the chapter format and also sound effects accompanying the on-screen textual introduction of characters, IB is actually very different to Kill Bill.
What I witnessed here was a much evolved Tarantino, one displaying not only his stylistic prowess, but a certain maturity and discipline. I mean take the dialogue for instance, it isn’t as witty as Pulp Fiction, nor does it have the word-play of Kill Bill. Yet the quality is still very much there. The dialogue in Inglourious Basterds is on a whole other level. The structure and content is very solid. I suppose this is the result of QT having to type the whole script out with just one finger on his typewriter. The results are obvious, characters rarely go off on tangents, and everything is to-the-point. The dialogue is faultless. Whilst the dialogue may not seem like it was written by QT, there are a few instances which parallel that of the dialogue in his previous films, such as “I know this is a silly question before I ask it…” and a variation on “normally you’d be 100% right, this time, you’re 100% wrong”. When I read parts of the script, the dialogue really struck me as being very different and serious in tone. This was in contrast to what a lot of people were saying at the time, that the tone was cheesy and comical. So naturally, I was a bit confused, maybe the 5-6 extracts I read were the only handful of the more serious moments. Well after watching the film it is obvious that it is mostly a serious piece, but obviously has its moments of humour like any other QT film. I didn’t witness any cheesy moments at all.
Another way QT has matured and evolved is through his camera work. There were quite a few stylistic flourishes scattered throughout the film, particularly during the last quarter. There are moments where the camera pans around characters effortlessly and so smoothly. During another scene, the camera very swiftly moves between three characters as they have a three-way conversation. I’d also like to mention here that the opening scene in the chapter Operation Kino reminded me of a Kubrick film. The large rooms, with barely anything in them, and characters just standing or sitting there in a mysterious way - huge bare walls and a cold atmosphere – something akin to The Shining. There were a few tracking shots which were amazing, but nothing that tops the one in Kill Bill. The camera placement and framing was quite unlike anything in his previous films. I didn’t know what to make of this. I’m used to that certain style he has, he altered it a bit in Death Proof, but this is a whole different beast. Don’t get me wrong, it is still very accomplished, and that is what’s impressive – that QT decided to go in a whole new direction in his… errr… direction… but it looks like he’s been honing that style for decades. I would say that Inglourious Basterds is his most accomplished work – direction-wise – to date.
There were many aspects to IB which were different to what we normally expect from QT. Like I mentioned earlier, there was no pre-credit or credit-opening scene. There was no trunk-shot. The music didn’t start and stop with purpose and structure, but seemed to just come and go whenever it felt like. I don’t think there were any made-up brands (like Red Apple). I didn’t notice any purposeful rhymes in the dialogue (except the “you need all four to end the war” segment). Finally, like Death Proof, the story played out in chronological order (with the exception of a few minor flashbacks).
However, many other QT trademarks were present, such as the tracking shot, the close-ups of hand movements, a split-screen sequence, a brilliantly varied soundtrack and of course bare feet.
Inglourious Basterds is not without its faults. The biggest weakness here is the inconsistent pacing. Whilst generally the film was solid in its structure, there were one too many moments of sudden cuts and tacked on scenes that almost took you out from the experience. It did feel rushed in parts, and it is strange as it’s very uncommon for QT and Sally Menke not to have everything down a T, especially when it comes to editing. Secondly, I did not like BJ Novak’s performance. He looked gormless through most of his thankfully short scenes. The final scenes in particular when he was alongside Brad Pitt, I felt a bit uneasy as he sits and stares at Hans Landa with an empty expression, whilst Pitt is fully aware of the scene and acts accordingly. The only other issue I have is the lack of quotable dialogue. This is the first QT film where certain lines do not stand out above others in a memorable way.
I don’t want to end with the criticisms and so would like to mention just how good a job Christoph Waltz does. His portrayal as Col. Hans Landa was absolutely brilliant. He is a unique Tarantino character in that he appears to be aware of everything. He is incredibly intelligent, charming yet quite sadistic, and of course he IS a linguistic genius. There is a scene where Bridget von Hammersmark tells him how she injured her leg (by mountain-climbing) and he breaks into a fit of laughter. This is one of my favourite scenes as it shows how intelligent Landa is. He obviously knows she is lying and can’t help but to laugh to himself, but instead of doing it covertly, he just bursts out in laughter. It’s one of the funniest moments in the film, and indeed the whole “Italian” scene involving Landa, Hammersmark and also Raine, Donnowitz and Omar is one of the funniest things QT has ever done. Even on the 2nd viewing I laughed just as hard as the first time. Landa has a lot of depth and unpredictability about him, his only flaw seems to be his lack of loyalty (even to himself). The acting was pretty much top-notch from everyone.
There were so many moments from the various trailers and clips that weren’t in the final film. Like – Donny addressing the Basterds at the beginning of the trailer, Landa saluting with his hand as the vehicles drive past, one of the Basterds running through the hallway with that huge arse machine gun, Stiglitz banging the Nazi’s face into the table and finally the on-screen text of “Dr Joseph Goebbels” with an arrow pointing at him. Many of those I don’t mind. But the Jew-rat dialogue from one of the clips was also missing, and I wish QT had kept it. However, I was happy to see that the scene were Donowitz and Omar discuss “punching the goons out, take their machine guns and burst in there blasting” dialogue wasn’t in the film. It felt very out of place.
There were moments of extreme violence in Inglourious Basterds, the end scene in particular was one of the most disturbing scenes I have seen in a QT film. Just like Leone, Tarantino builds up a scene, until there is so much tension and then the action climax lasts only a matter of seconds. The cinematography was very good, though not as good as in Kill Bill. That signature white light look from Richardson is hardly ever present, which was a surprise. The last chapter however looked very beautiful, the cinema with all its vibrant colours married with the impressive camera work made for some pleasurable viewing. There were a few signature shots I loved like the camera positioned a few paces behind a doorway leading out into the vast outside landscape just like that signature shot in The Searchers. Also, the image of Jacky Ido standing in front of the hundreds of film reels and the giant cinema screen ranks up there as one of the most poignant moments. It will be a defining shot of Inglourious Basterds.
Whilst not the masterpiece I expected (I didn’t think Kill Bill was a masterpiece until like the 4th viewing), Inglourious Basterds is QT’s most accomplished film to date. It fulfils the desires and expectations I had all these years ago when I yearned for a “serious Tarantino”. Yes, the film has many comedic elements, the audience in both showings I attended laughed out loud regularly. But for me, I consider it his most serious film in almost all aspects. QT didn’t fuck about with this, and it shows. I would rank it below Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill but on par with Jackie Brown followed by Reservoir Dogs and Death Proof. It looks to be a film that gets better upon subsequent viewings, but doesn’t look to be a film you can watch over and over. Maybe I feel that way as I watched it twice in 2 days. Regardless, I think this film will open to great critical success amongst film fans and deservedly so. Quentin Tarantino remains my all-time greatest director.