Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino /Starring Bard Pitt, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent
Col. Hans Landa: What a tremendously hostile world that a rat must endure. Yet not only does he survive, he thrives. And that, Monsieur, is what a Jew shares with a rat.
This might sound odd at first but bear with me. Without giving anything away, the final shot of Quentin Tarantino’s sixth film, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS – this is where I need you to bear – shows two characters looking directly into the camera and one declares to the other that this may be his best work yet. It’s just another one of those cheeky Tarantino moments we, that is “we” as in fans of his work, have come to expect and relish in his mostly masterful works. There are times though when a moment like this one ceases to be witty and serves only to allow Tarantino’s gigantic ego to overpower his usually inspired words. This is precisely one of those moments for me. Seeing this, or rather hearing this, did not make me want to stand up and cheer to show how desperately I agree with his assessment of his own work. Instead, it gave me slight pause and allowed me to remove my Tarantino-tinged glasses and ask, “Really, Quentin? You think this is your best work?”
INGLORIOUS BASTERDS opens and is almost instantly a parody of itself and Tarantino’s previous work. I can’t say this for certain but I don’t think this was his intention. A dramatic spaghetti western score plays over the bold-faced, colorful credits and you watch to see which obscure actors Tarantino handpicked to pop up at pivotal moments (in this case, Mike Myers as British military officer) and more importantly, to see how Tarantino will bill his own credit (in this case, the surprisingly humble, “A film by”). And then the title announces that we are about to witness “Chapter One”, just as we did in KILL BILL. There is nothing wrong with adapting a similar structure for your films to distinguish your style – heck, Woody Allen does it all the time – but, while Allen’s touches are understated, Tarantino’s tone is so distinct and loud that it borders more on bravado than brilliance. Seeing as how the story hasn’t even started at this point, it feels as though he has already shot himself in the foot.
At a 2½ hour running time though, it is hardly fair to judge the film based solely on its opening credits. What follows is a scene that justifies and gives some much needed context to the film’s obnoxious marketing campaign – You haven’t seen a WWII movie if you haven’t seen Tarantino do it (or something relatively like that). It is no secret that Tarantino likes to hear himself speak. His scenes go on far longer than most other directors would allow and the dialogue wraps around itself so many times that it’s a small miracle that his players don’t get dizzy when they stand up. And while this is all play when you have a bunch of guys sitting around a table debating the meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, it is something else entirely when the scene involves an SS officer known as “The Jew Hunter” and a French farmer suspected to be hiding a Jewish family in his home. The longer it goes on, the more tense it becomes and by the time it inevitably turns violent, Tarantino takes no prisoners, just like the Nazis. The style flows about as abundantly and as smoothly as the Nazi blood for the rest of the run time.
At times, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS seems unfocused and overtly gratuitous, even by Tarantino’s standards. (When Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine declares that he wants his scalps, he isn’t kidding.) While it is technically fantastic (safe for a continuity error with Pitt’s unfastened bow tie at one point that I can’t believe Tarantino didn’t notice) and also deeply engrossing, it is the liberties with history that just don’t sit well with me. During a chilling climax, there are so many dying Nazis surrounded by burning swastika banners that one can practically feel Tarantino watching from the wings to see just how uproarious the cheers from the audience will be. It is hard to cheer though when you know that none of this happened really, that we are being manipulated as an audience to revel in this alternate reality where the doers of one of history’s greatest evils, get what they deserve, Tarantino style. This is especially true when what really happened was already horrific enough.