Monday, August 24, 2009

The Good, the Bad & the Inglourious

The initial word wasn't too promising. When Quentin Tarantino's epic WWII flick Inglourious Basterds premiered in Cannes back in May, the response from critics was kinda lukewarm. Now on general release - and post-editorial tweaking - the critics are still divided, but it's definitely getting way more praise than before. I caught the film yesterday afternoon, and found it on the whole, terrific. While he's yet to repeat something on the level of the Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction one-two punch (how can he?) or the quiet restraint and maturity of Jackie Brown (still his best IMHO), this big, bold, audacious movie is a notch above Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 and Death Proof in terms of his artistic progression.

There remains plenty of gleeful, geeky ol' QT adolescence on display, but generally it isn't as gratuitous this time round. All the movie references and in-jokes - from German director Pabst to Italo B-movie genre hack Antonio Margheriti - do serve their purpose to drive the plot forward and aren't solely there to flaunt his encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema. And maybe more so than any other film of his career, his film obsession manifests itself within the narrative in a most literal way that's thrillingly inspired, indulgent and insane at the same time.

If there's one thing Tarantino's proven to be particularly deft at, it's destroying our expectations, or at least destabilising the traditional movie-going experience. The trailer sells Basterds as a gung-ho, action-packed WWII movie. It's not. It's a freakin' art movie, with lotsa subtitles and protracted scenes of nothing but talking, and more talking - but the talk is truly fantastic: poetic, rich, zingy and peppered with lines that act like little time bombs waiting to detonate. It also appears Brad Pitt is leading the action, but he pops in and out throughout, in a manner that's not what you'd normally associate with a lead actor. There's nothing quite normal about the film. But it is some of the most fun I've had in a theatre in a while.

Christoph Waltz's performance? Scene-stealing joy. The third chapter with Melanie Laurent's character, her theatre, meeting Daniel Bruhl, etc? Really magic stuff, Tarantino working on another level - maybe my favourite portion of the film. The opening farm sequence and the "celebrity head" sequence in a basement bar? Shit my pants. Ok, it's not all perfect: I cringed every time Pitt was on-screen doing his OTT redneck schtick. In fact, I cringed whenever ANY of the American cast were on-screen (Eli Roth! Gah!); is the great divide in quality/style of acting between the Euros and the Yanks an intentional thing? And the ending seems a bit rushed to allow any sort of lingering emotion to sink in - pity since there's a death in the climax that's a real shocker and quite heartbreaking.

There's so much in this film; so much that is great, and so much that is squandered greatness. But such is Tarantino. As long as he's got final cut (which is what? as long as he's with the Weinsteins?), he's going to continue to confound, irritate and entertain us with these crazy, personal art films that look like genre exercises but are not.

No comments:

Post a Comment