Inglourious Basterds: Not dastardly enough!
Now this was disappointing. Nowhere as uproariously kickass as one’s made to believe it is [the publicity machine, the trailers, the interviews... everything], but still, has enough chops and enough amusing detail with casually humoured irreverence for it to be counted one of the best of the year (yes that’s how mediocre 2009 has been for the movies). What’s rather amusing is that in the wake of recent findings with regards to Hitler’s demise and all the speculations of his whereabouts in the final days, this is as much a plausible watch as the morose Das Undertang (Downfall).
Tarantino’s obsession with exposition and his care for the conversations that his characters have is admirable considering that he is a juggernaut of a popular icon, but since Kill Bill he isn’t able to imbibe the consistent wit that his earlier works sported [Okay by "since Kill Bill" I really mean Kill Bill Vol.1 and 2, and would exclude Death Proof which had some of the most phenomenal lines spoken by the baddest-ass females in Hollywood history], but really here, some of the interactions could have been shorter by atleast 10 minutes and would have lost none of the impact and atmosphere. The good thing is when Tarantino makes these talkie scenes work, it is at key plot-points. Like the opening scene where a Jew-hiding remote Frenchman is quizzed by SS Officer Hans Landa the “Jewhunter” or the introductory Inglourious Basterds interrogation and “scalping” or the lengthy scene at the tavern which smugly extends for about half an hour in the middle of the movie. Even though most of these sequences are going for the quiet-lull-before-ammunition-and-bloodstorm conceit rather exagerratedly, especially for Tarantino-regulars who have unravelled the panning-out before it all pans out. they still work. As do the two-three interrogation scenes of Landa.
But my main grouse with the film is it wasn’t as crazily misogynist or as full-throttle a primordial action-comedy as I wanted it to be. Yes, Tarantino and his writers do a splendid spin on the whole Nazi and Führer spectre, have gone wild penning two disparate threads of conspiracies to assassinate the moustached devil but there’s a nagging feeling they’ve taken themselves a tad too seriously and let the less amusing parts stretch on to overbear on the actual Basterds with their thuggish Nazi-homicide-shenanigans.I would have loved to see the latter track dunked in more action as Tarantino directs action like a pro. The two-three sequences he lays his teeth bare and gets his boys gun-toting and blowing things up-he’s in his element.
In stark contrast to when he’s tapping into a runaway-Jew’s anxiety as she sits across the table and being interrogated by the officer who mutilated her family which comes across as unnecessarily maudlin, predictable and poisons the purpose of this “alternative” historical piece.
All’s not lost because he’s got a super-efficient cast. Christopher Waltz is simply glorious as the slimy multi-lingual silver-tongued SS officer nicked as the Jewhunter and gives us the year’s most devious and memorable villian by taking every line of Tarantino and turning it into movie-magic. His scenery-chewing charisma is matched by a soaringly photogenic and unassumingly winsome turn by Melanie Laurent, whose track of a Jewish-lass-in-vengeance-mode is downtoned to almost-Schindler’s-List-grimness and contrasts the whole Tarantino badass mood, but she still managing to hold her own.
In what are extended cameos, Brad Pitt and Eli Roth as the key Basterds bring down the house with how much they are enjoying the lines they’ve been given, and by the end of it all, you WISH you saw more of these, and I am going to hold this against Tarantino bigtime. Awfully funny characters with a rabidly street-smart sense of humour and memorable antics, with more thought and development of these characters would really have turned these Basterds glorious, but alas, Tarantino wants us to take him seriously and take us on a joyride. Which is weird because the whole world takes him seriously when he takes them on a joyride.
So there you have it, some misdirected ambition of an auteur brings down a potential masterpiece as a flawed-above-average action-historical-spoof with a dream of a premise but flanked with more drama than it can handle. Still, this is some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies. And yes, the production design, the look and the detailing absolutely add to the experience. Motifs like glass of milk, wrist-mounted mini sling-guns, combustible film reels and subtitles for not one but three European languages go a long way in giving this film a flavour all its own. And since this is a Tarantino venture, rest assured it will be referred and referenced ad nauseum countless times whenever coffee-table conversations turn towards the Holocaust films and nostalgia for the 90s hard-as-nails Tarantino of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs fame.