23 July 2009 | motta80-2
Great fun, a real surprise
It just goes to show how wrong you can be. I had not expected to like this film. I was disappointed by both the Kill Bill films (although i preferred the second) and Death Proof (although it was better in the shorter cut of the double-bill release). I love Reservoir Dogs, admire Pulp Fiction and think that Jackie Brown is Tarantino's most mature piece of film-making - technically his most superior - including the last great performance elicited from Robert De Niro. Since then it seems to me while his films have been okay (i haven't hated them) he has been treading water in referential, reverential, self-indulgent juvenilia.
Then i read the script last year for Inglourious Basterds - and i hated it! Sure it had some typical QT flourishes and the opening scene was undeniably powerful. There were a couple of great characters. But on page it was more juvenile rubbish, largely ruined by the largess of the uninteresting Basterds of the title. It made me seriously contemplate not seeing the film. The trailers did nothing to convince me. I only changed by mind when i had the opportunity to see the film with a Tarantino Q&A following in London. I figured it would be worth enduring to hear him in Q&A as i know from interviews how entertaining he can be in person.
So little was i prepared for the sheer exuberant fun and brilliance of Inglourious Basterds.
Easily Mr Tarantino's best work since Jackie Brown it is a triumph.
Yes the references are there but they do not interfere with the story, they are not the driving force. Yes Eli Roth is stunt casting but he works fine, with little to do but look aggressive, and does nothing to hurt the film as i had feared. While i admired Mr Tarantino for using stuntwoman Zoe Bell as herself in Death Proof in order to amp-up the exhilaration of the major stunt scene her lack of any acting ability in a key role was a problem for the film. The same could be said of Tarantino's own appearances in several films, especially Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn, which Tarantino wrote.
What really makes this work is how BIG it is. The spaghetti western vibe to much of the style, dialogue and performances is wonderfully over the top without descending too far into the cartoon quality of Kill Bill. The violence is so big. The audacity so big. Brad Pitt is so big! In the trailers the Hitler moment and Pitt's performance bothered me but in the context of the film they are hilarious. Pitt is actually brilliant here, exactly what he needs to be. He is Mifune's blustering samurai in Yojimbo, he is Robards Cheyenne from Once Upon a Time in the West, there is a very James Coburn vibe to him, and of course a suitably Lee Marvin edge.
Christoph Waltz (who i did not previously known) and Melanie Laurent (who i first noticed in a brilliant French-language British short film by Sean Ellis) are sensational and i expect to see both used a lot more in the future. Tarantino has clearly not lost his eye for casting, which seemed to desert him in Death Proof. Waltz is equally large in his performance. Chilling, yet theatrical. He is Fonda from OUATITW, Van Cleef from Good, The Bad & the Ugly. And Laurent is suitably Cardinale innocence but tough, a fighter. They both dazzle here.
That every member of the cast gets the fun to be had from what they are doing while not indulging themselves in just having fun and trying to get laughs helps tremendously. The laughs - and there are loads - come organically. Only Mike Myers comes close to tipping the wink and pushing it too far but his scene is reigned in just enough - with the help of a fantastic Michael Fassbender who seems pulled directly from the mold of Attenborough's Great Escape leader.
All the actors shine and Tarantino throws in wonderful flourishes, but ones that work with the story. The introduction of Schweiger's Hugo Stiglitz is a riot. After a sensational slow-burn opening and a glorious intro to those inglourious Basterds the pace never lets up and over two and half hours flies by.
It also looks beautiful, marking this as a return to real film-making rather than just self-indulgent silliness. The musical choices, as always, are inspired from Morricone on.
The film is audacious and hilarious. After a summer when nearly every film has disappointed me it came as a huge surprise that the real fun and entertaining, but also involving and impressive film should be this one, when i would never have believed it from script form. Welcome back QT.