Review: Lachlan Marks
What do you expect from Quentin Tarantino? A safe bet would be sassy dialogue, lashings of violence and plenty of nodding in the direction of his favourite movies. Many lost faith after the much anticipated, good but not great, exploitation geek out that was the Grindhouse saga with Robert Rodriguez, ultimately poorly marketed and mildly received. All the early indicators for Inglourious Basterds pointed towards another classy homage/parody, this time of WWII films, but little more. Well, chins can be raised, as, if not his best film, this is indeed his richest and most thought out effort to date. The big surprise is that despite the setting and concept, the story is strong and the delivery refreshing.
The clichés usually found in your average Hollywood plotline are instead applied to the process of filmmaking, which is what this is really about. And yes, Tarantino constantly references classic and not so classic cinema, but here he toys so well with the conventions; he’s either exaggerating the obvious or turning it completely upside down.
The premise is simple, a group of notorious Nazi bashing Jewish soldiers seek to take down some serious bad guys during a film premier in France, but there are so many layers at work and a gleeful self-awareness that is as tasteful as the film’s unpredictable moments of bloodshed are jarring. The characters in this world are very much concerned with their identities, either desperately trying to conceal who they really are or berating others as to why their reputation has not preceded them or is indeed, incorrect. It’s a delicious concept, as Tarantino delivers a group of super heroes and mega villains with outrageous introductions rather than interactions. We know the characters by fame only. Because of this, at the mid point the plot appears under developed but the pay off is huge and the overall experience is guaranteed to deepen with repeat viewings.
Hopefully, it will get the audience it deserves, although that audience is likely to be divided into two parts with some crossover: those who love oneliners and a grisly demise and those who are there for the in jokes, metaphor and eccentricity. As we left the cinema, punters could be heard either talking up how “fucked up that bit with knife was” or “how clever it was that he played a scene in that way”. Whilst unlikely to admit it, the joy of a film like this is that each side of the crowd should be able to get a guilty kick out of elements they usually show contempt for. Tarantino enjoys seducing filmgoers to try new things, and while this is still confronting, it feels like his most accessible film – non-Tarantino fans who show up just to see Brad Pitt’s pretty face (and not so pretty neck) in a rollicking WWII adventure may have some gripes but it’s power to entertain is undeniable.
In the hands of a Hollywood fearing author, we might have seen some serious accolades heading towards this. That said, Christoph Waltz’s inspired turn as a flamboyant Nazi known as “The Jew Killer” is top shelf. In comparison, Quentin’s fellow trash’n’gore-lover, director Eli Roth, throws in a basic scowlin’-tough-dude-with-a-machine gun performance that you’d usually pick out of the bargain bin at Woolies. The melding of these two types of cinema, combined with the internal analysis of both, is what makes this so ambitious and appealing, and also what will ensure that it is considered uncomfortable and unbalanced to some.
When you’re a fanboy catering for fanboys, a hyperactive attention to detail is inevitable; Tarantino is not a spiritless gun for hire, he loves what he’s doing and for those willing to have their expectations flipped and watch the medium unraveled in front of them, this sure to be the best fun had in a seated position this month.