This obsession served him well, especially in his early films when his celebration of those styles of filmmaking took audiences by surprise and truly amazed, thrilled and entertained them.
With Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino continues his transition from wanting to share his passion with his audience to wanting to indulge himself. This makes the title of the film itself achingly ironic.
So as not to spoil the film for those Tarantino fans anxiously awaiting it, I’ll speak in generalities. The film is a series of mostly clunky sequences that alternate (though some plot lines that are setup, especially that of the marauding Basterds, are suddenly dropped) . However, the first sequence is very dramatic and tense while including a purposely self-conscious joke to switch the dialog in the film from French to English in the middle of the scene. Well done and the best sequence in the film.
From there, the film slips deeper and deeper into one-dimensional characterizations and literally, fantasyland about WWII and Hitler. Brad Pitt is painfully bad as he tries far too hard to do a virtual Jack Nicholson impression from his Last Detail days. As happens repeatedly through the film, the viewer’s mind is shaken off of the story and into thinking about the poor choices made in making this film. The one exception is the cliche but brilliantly played German baddie played by Christoph Waltz, he injects the role with a comic and light touch that somehow intensifies the characters’ threatening presence. Mark my words, if anyone or anything from this film gets an Academy nomination, he certainly should.
The Inglorious Basterds themselves are a cliche “ragtag” band of Jews…who unfortunately look as stereotypical as the propaganda at that time. There were (and are) a wide variety of people who are Jewish, though using cliches is part of how Tarantino appears to be entertaining himself with this film, going that route with Jews in a WWII movie with Nazis and Hitler, even if the idea is to have them get revenge on Nazis, does feel a bit tone deaf.
The styles of Tarantino faves like Sam Fuller and Sergio Leone are intentionally replicated by him though the script is so scattered that most characters come off as shallow pawns being moved around a cinematic chessboard tailored for Mr. Tarantino’s enjoyment.
From a commercial standpoint, the film will likely have a strong opening, benefiting from trailers and the Tarantino name but as American audiences discover that a large amount of the film is in French and German, requiring subtitle reading for a good bit of the film, the slow moving nature of the film and that it’s a period piece set in WWII France that is an homage to 60’s – 70’s westerns and war films, it would not seem to have great prospects after its first week.
And considering that Germans are portrayed as mostly dumb and evil and are scalped like animals…I wouldn’t put the highest hopes in returns from the German boxoffice.
My disappointment in this film and Tarantino come from my desire to enjoy his work. His early films were remarkable, he reinterpreted his favorite genres and shared them with the audience. His decline in connecting with the audience is not unprecedented, rising to the heights of accomplishment and success in the biz, being pampered and adored, can deteriorate one’s humility and in essence sanction self-indulgence.
And self-indulgence, even from a talented filmmaker, is a dish best not served on a Friday Night date at $10 bucks a head.