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Quentin Tarantino hits a cul-de-sac in his career

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Inglorious Basterds needs an editor.
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Inglorious directorial shark-jumping in Inglorious Basterds (some spoilers)

  • Feb 28, 2010
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There's a lot to be said for Quentin Tarantino's style of Mixmaster film-making, but not all of it's good.  Case in point - "Inglorious Basterds". 

Where "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill" managed to cut and paste the best of 70's exploitation and martial arts films respectively, "Inglorious Basterds" mashes up genres that are exhausted or never really existed, and for good reason.

Instead of Blaxsploitation, in which a repressed underclass gets to indulge in implausible violent revenge fantasies in a gritty urban setting, we get Jew-sploitation - a repressed underclass indulging in wildly overblown revenge fantasies in a setting which grants feeble homage to World War II caper movies like "The Dirty Dozen" or "The Guns of Navarone".  

The pacing is bad (the film could easily have had 30 of its 153 minutes cut), the dialogue was awful, but the cinematography was meticulous and the attention to historical detail equally so.  There are some classic movie posters in various scenes that give away the film's more obscure antecedents - "L'Assassin Habite au 21" and "Le Corbeau" by Henri-Georges Clouzot.  There are a few memorably beautiful and striking scenes, like the final images of Emmanuelle Mimieux screened on the smoke of her burning theatre.

As in "Reservoir Dogs", the cinematic violence is the entire point of the movie.  There are few scenes I have ever seen that are more graphically disgusting and pointless than repeated images of people being scalped or having swastikas carved in their foreheads, or a man being beaten to death with a baseball bat.  Once is shocking, twice is just plain editable, and three times is Tarantino.

There are redeeming features, to be sure - the cast is terrific.  Christoph Waltz as SS Colonel Hans Landa plays a thoroughly abominable character with a blithe insouciance and self-involvement that seems to prove the old "banality of evil" argument about Nazism.   Brad Pitt's Aldo Raine character is so gratingly ignorant-and-proud American that the over-the-top stereotyping rings truer than fiction.  As usual, Quentin Tarantino gives female characters latitude, depth and plot leverage.  Melanie Laurent beautifully enacts the classic French/Jewish resister Emmanuelle Mimieux (a sideways tribute to both the French soft-porn series and Yvette Mimieux, an actress in too many of Tarantino's favorite B-movies).  Diane Kruger's Bridget von Hammersmark yields another well-played homage to cliche' - the turncoat with a heart of gold who meets a bitter fate.

The trademark Tarantino effect of pushing now-cliche'd stories to their laughable utmost fails utterly in "Inglorious Basterds", for the simple reason that the material it's based on is too bitter for parody.  The themes are too large, the pain is still too real for the distance of fiction, and the stories keep getting told to the point of cliche' because the consequences were real and continue to this day.   As much as we might daydream about what would have happened if the whole Third Reich could have been murdered in its infancy,  the willing suspension of disbelief necessary to this fantasy is impossible. 

For Quentin Tarantino, there may be no life off the screen.  His movies seem always to be about other movies, lacking in any expression of deeper human meaning.

Spoiler - like "Reservoir Dogs", almost everybody, hero or villain, dies.  At least there won't be a sequel.

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