Tarantino re-imagines World War 2... with a remake that barely resembles the original... and barely passes for imaginative.
Inglourious Basterds is a new film by Quentin Tarantino. It stars Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine who is charged with forming an elite team of Jewish killing machines that will be dropped behind enemy lines to wreak havoc upon The Nazi regime. He is joined by Eli Roth who plays "The Bear Jew" as he is referred to (aka Donny Donowitz), Til Schweiger who plays Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (a former German soldier turned Nazi killer) and several others.
They are aided by two female characters. One is played by Diane Kruger and the other is played by Melanie Laurent. I won't go into any detail on that though so as to not spoil any plot points.
The central antagonist in this film is not Hitler (though The Fuhrer does make a couple of appearances). This role instead falls to Christoph Waltz who plays Colonel Hans Landa (aka The Jew Hunter). I'll discuss him in depth shortly.
Ok so on with my opinions...
The film that this movie is based on is called Quel Maldetto treno blindato. It was shot in Italy and released in 1978. The most recognizable actor in the cast is Fred Williamson who plays a character that is not in Tarantino's version. I mention this because none of the original characters are in this remake. The plot is also completely different. I'm actually not sure why Tarantino chose to use the name and sell this as a remake. It is not a remake. I'm not sure why it is labeled as such and discussed as being similar in any way to the original.
So... if it is not a remake then it must be pretty original right?
Well before I get into that, I need to make a brief statement.
You (as the reader) need to understand a few things. I am a huge Tarantino fan. I have seen Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and True Romance more than a dozen times each. I have seen Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2 many times as well. I love his films. He has surprised me again and again by consistently being amazing. I really enjoyed his last movie (Death Proof). It was very entertaining and a load of fun. Tarantino is a brilliant man and he has not disappointed me... until now.
Inglourious Basterds is a mish mash of cliches. If you have watched a lot of WW2 movies or just old Hollywood dramatic flicks then you will immediately recognize most of this movie as being borrowed from others. What you will not recognize is the depth of characters and personalities in the greater portion of those older classics. Who are these men? What are they all about? We are given VERY little to go on and even less to care about. The main characters are not interesting at all. In fact, the title characters are really only touched on in passing... almost as though they were thrown in after Tarantino had already shot an entirely different movie.
So if The Inglorious Basterds are not the center of this film then why is the film called "Inglourious Basterds"?
I don't know.
I found myself confused many times watching this movie. The story was strange and moved around without any sense of clarity. We jump around in time and from different groups of characters with no real rhyme or reason. We are introduced to the characters that are actually interesting with a seemingly accidental and sloppy handling... almost as though Tarantino didn't know he was going to care about the characters until half way through a scene when suddenly they became central to his focus. We spend much of the movie trying to figure out what character we should care about and our reward for this is a plot that is actually not very good.
To distract us further is a soundtrack that is totally out of place. The use of music designed to emulate Spaghetti Westerns seemed to miss the mark completely. This was apparently intended to create an atmosphere similar to that of Kill Bill vol 2 but it did not work at all and just seemed strange. There are a couple of scenes where it is so distracting that I was unable to focus on anything else. I love old westerns... loved Kill Bill... but this was executed very poorly.
So what about this movie IS good?
There are some very good things in Inglourious Basterds.
The cinematography is fantastic. Lighting and camera movement is classic Tarantino. I really enjoyed the look of most of the shots and there are some moments that the visual aspect of the experience is very well orchestrated.
Some of the minor actors are truly talented and unexpected. A wonderful French actor named Denis Menochet has a short scene in the opening and he is amazing. Daniel Bruhl has a great role and plays it masterfully as well.
The best thing in this movie though (by far) is the performance given by a German actor who will undoubtedly become a Hollywood star. Christoph Waltz (who plays Colonel Hans Landa aka "The Jew Hunter") is the most fascinating villain I have seen in a long time. Every scene he is in is fascinating. His character is complex and very very creepy. I often found myself wondering about the character and where he had come from. Tarantino gives us some information but leaves us wanting more from Waltz. I would have loved to have seen more of him but what we get is enough to save this movie from total disaster. In my opinion, Tarantino owes Waltz for bailing him out here. Without that performance, I would honestly hate this film.
All in all, I think this is probably Quentin Tarantino's worst movie. It was confusing, shallow and not very well structured. It's lack of originality seems more derivative of earlier works than an homage to any one or group of genres. The execution here is sloppy and far below the high standard set by all of his earlier work. The diamond in the rough is Christoph Waltz. The rest is just pretty rough.
I had to think about this one for 3 days after I saw the movie before I could write this review. I've given it a lot of thought and I hope that I never have to give one of my favorite directors a review unworthy of him again. Please Quentin... please get the train back on the tracks. Right now we are knee deep in one inglorious mess.
Until next time, remember...
Criticism takes no talent. Talent takes all of the criticism.
I appreciate your time.
Cyrus Martin is a founding contributor of OneManAsylum.com. He is also the co-host of the Group Therapy weekly podcast. Cyrus is author of Ethan Eternal, the first book in the Perry Long saga. Cyrus has also written and self-published a book, Deceit & Conquest, programmed a video game based on Deceit & Conquest and self-produced a full length movie, Dawn of Twilight. You can follow him on Twitter @cyrusmartin.
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