Posted on 8/28/09 05:22 PM
Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is not a comedy. It has been marketed as a Mel Brooks-style farce, which couldn't be further from the truth. There are some farcical moments, but for the most part "Basterds" is dead-serious.
Unfortunately in many parts it is also dead-boring. There is a great opening sequence and a thrilling ending, but the vast middle in the two-and-a-half-hour film is terribly slack. The principal reason the film fails is poor editing. The basic idea for the film is superb. But the direction is in many cases rather plain, and the editing drains a lot of life out of the film by making each sequence too long.
The misleading marketing also gives you the sense that Brad Pitt is the star. He is not. There actually is no star, as the film is a compilation of vignettes, each with its own storyline. The one Nazi character, Colonel Hans Landa, played terrifyingly well by Austrian character actor Christoph Waltz, is the closest thing the film has to a leading role.
It is ironic that a film about Nazi hunters ends up being more about Nazis than Nazi hunters. Landa is by far the most interesting and most fully realized character in the film, and Waltz' acting far outshines anyone else in the cast. I predict that Waltz will win many Best Actor honors when award season rolls around. I wouldn't even be surprised if he walked off with the Oscar. That's how good he is.
But I don't predict "Inglourious Basterds" will receive any other awards.
I wish the film had turned out better because its central premise is so good and unique. It rewrites the history of World War II, making Jews far more rebellious than they were. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads a pack of Jewish avengers on a rampage through Nazi-occupied France, killing every German soldier they can get their hands on. Tarantino revels in the vengeance, depicting many of the killings in an almost lusty manner.
Meanwhile, a French Jew whose family was killed before her eyes plans her own vengeance. She and her African boyfriend plot an attack on the Nazi elite in a way that harnesses the power of the movies. The whole final sequence is shot in a movie theater. While there is an element of farce in the Aldo Raine storyline, French actress Melanie Laurent plays her Jewish-avenger part without a drop of humor.
Equally serious is the work of Diane Kruger, playing a German film actress who works as a spy for the British. She teams up with Raine's squad in a plot to kill Hitler himself. In true Tarantino fashion, the female characters are given a toughness that matches and sometimes exceeds that of the males.
With all these great elements, "Inglourious Basterds" should have been one of the best films of the year. Alas, it is not.