This is the kind of movie only Quentin Tarantino seems able to get away with. A typically irreverent, cunning and scatological piece of flotsam that does everything against the accepted movie-making conventions but mostly works nonetheless.
Watching it, I kept thinking about all those `how to write a screenplay' courses and instruction books and reflecting on how the writing for `Inglorious Basterds' would probably fail all the standard academic criteria for success. Here is a 153 minute long movie that largely consists of lengthy conversations between two or more characters, usually sitting statically at tables and ranging around all sorts of commonplace chit-chat before getting to the point. The point, when eventually reached, then usually climaxes in a short, brutal moment of extreme violence. The film also pays scant attention to its titular characters, who are mostly just there to supply the key moments of violence. Tarantino prefers to turn conventions around and promote nominal supporting roles into the predominant leads. Finally, there's the intriguing awareness that this screenplay could probably be adapted as a theatre play with minimal change and a pretty modest budget. In fact, if somebody told you the whole thing was a filmed stage play you'd probably believe it.
Tarantino's usual indulgences are as much to the fore as ever - pastiche, self-awareness, smugness, overlength and endless movie references. The whole thing starts with a lengthy tribute to the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West and another long scene, involving the French heroine played by Melanie Laurent, looks like something lifted straight from a late-50s New Wave classic by Goddard or Truffaut. The trouble, as is always the case in Tarantino films, is that its hard to get sucked into the plot or care about the characters as he simply isn't interested in creating realistic worlds. You finish watching his movies feeling pleased that your film knowledge is strong enough to survive all the references and tributes thrown at you and then you end up feeling irritated that you have allowed yourself to get drawn into some kind of self-inflicted movie geek film quiz rather than simply going along to watch the picture.
Such is the power of the Auteur!
And yet, and yet....... Inglorious Basterds is fascinating, engaging, funny, clever, well-made and simply miles better than most mainstream movies you're likely to see in any given year. Yes, the scenes are all too long - yet they never bore and they often create superb tension. Yes, the characters often appear stereotypes - until a piece of dialogue reveals something new and unexpected. Yes, the film appears little more than a series of individual set pieces - until something important comes up that relates directly to an earlier scene.
My one problem with the picture is with the climax, which, though it tie's up all the loose ends and leads to a literally explosive resolution, nevertheless overdoes the alternative history lesson. Up until this point the film largely plays within the facts of WWII history, but the finale's rampant fiction somehow makes what has gone before a little meaningless and irrelevant. It also somewhat compromises a couple of key characters, whose actions contradict - and not in a believable way - much that has been carefully established about them in the preceding two hours.
And the acting? Well in an ensemble cast Brad Pitt enjoys himself immensely as the leader of the Basterds and Diane Kruger, as a Dietrich-like movie star and double agent, is much less stilted and more engaging than in any previous film. However pride of place goes to largely unknown Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, playing a relentless SS Jew hunter whose viciousness is hidden by an outwardly charming manner. A pity that it is his character who is most compromised by the finale.
All in all, well done Quentin - you've managed to pull it off yet again. I suspect I'll always have my reservations about you, but the fact remains that nobody does it quite the way you do.