What to make of Quentin Tarantino? Personally, I’ve come to see him as a major fraud. Not that his movies stink. They don’t. But they are hardly the works of genius his fan boys claim. That the Academy Award folks seem to love him mystifies me.
Take Inglourious Basterds, for instance. I finally was able to view this film at home on DVD. I’d been waiting several months for it to become available via Netflix, then finally gave in and bought a used copy for $14 at my local FYE. So Amy and I watched it this weekend.
At first I thought we were in for a treat. The film starts with a classic western musical score and a scene clearly inspired by “Shane.” I thought, “Cool. A World War II movie written and filmed like a western. What a neat idea.” But things fell apart quickly. Oh, sure there are a few chuckles, the trademark Tarantino banter, and one mildly satisfying comeuppance toward the end. All in all, however, Basterds is just a violent mishmash, perhaps a decent summer flick for those with low standards. How it got a Best Picture nomination, even in a year with an expanded field, I do not understand.
There are times when Tarantino’s taste for blood and gore is so over the top it really is funny, such as the fight scene in the Asian restaurant in Kill Bill (Volume 1, I think). But there is none of that “whimsy” in Basterds. The violence is cruel. I’m sure you know the story: A team of Jewish soldiers (the Basterds) enter occupied France to kill as many Nazis as they can. There’s a parallel story of vengeance by a young woman whose family was slaughtered early in the war. The two stories collide at the end in a Paris movie theater filled with Nazi’s including the high command. Mayhem ensues.
Brad Pitt is good as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, commander of the Basterds. French actress Melanie Laurent is excellent as Shoshana Dreyfus, the woman with a score to settle. She’s also amazingly beautiful. She kind of looks like a young Uma Thurman — I guess that’s Tarantino’s type. Her character and that of the evil Nazi “Jew Hunter” — played by Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz — are really the only characters we really learn much about. And one of them dies. In fact, almost everyone dies in this film.
Seriously, do not read past this point if you plan to see the film.
And when I say almost everyone dies, I mean almost everyone, including Adolph Hitler, who is gunned down by two of the Basterds near the end of the film. This is the mildly satisfying moment I refered to earlier. I say “mildly” because it all happens so quick, while chaos rains down, that it is a moment that’s hard to savor. I mean, I love the idea of a film in which Hitler gets his riddled with bullets! But give us a moment to enjoy it. Please. Make him suffer. Let him know that it is two Jews who are pulling the trigger. Earlier in the film we have to watch common German soldiers being scalped and beaten to death with a baseball bat. Tarantino relishes those cringe-inducing scenes. Why is he in such a hurry to dispatch Hitler?
Oh, well. The movie, as I sort of said, is very uneven, grossly violent, and hardly satisfying in the long run. And it made me realize that I don’t much respect Quentin Tarantino as a filmmaker and I wonder where his mystique comes from. I certainly don’t find any clues up on the screen!