I won’t waste any time with the “I’m dying to see this film” chatter, or “Those basterds out in Cannes are the luckiest sons of bitches for having seen this film already” jargon (Yes, I spelled the word “bastard” wrong on purpose there; not by mistake). All I’ll say is this: Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglourious Basterds had its Cannes Film Festival premiere last night, meaning that a slew of instant reviews and reactions have made their way online, in addition to three clips that I’ll link below.
The consensus varies from blown away to slightly-below-indifferent to firing-squad-angry. It seems that the film is inflated with long stretches of dialogue, not uncommon for a Tarantino film, of course, but a little unexpected since the film’s premise (American soldiers hunting and killing Nazis in WWII, while a scorned young Jewish girl also plots revenge against Hitler’s regime) and that awesome trailer promise tons og gunfights and scalped skulls. I’ll let the critics explain, though, since I obviously didn’t see it myself last night:
Kicking things off is the esteemed Jeffrey Wells, from his Hollywood-Elsewhere.com:
“It’s not great. It’s a fairly engaging Quentin chit-chat personality film in World War II dress-up. It’s arch and very confidently rendered from QT’s end, but it’s basically talk, talk, talk . Tension surfaces in a couple of scenes (especially the first — an interrogation of a French farmer by a German officer looking for hidden Jews) but overall story tension is fairly low. A couple of shootouts occur but there’s no real action in the Michael Mann sense of the term except for the finale. No characters are subjected to tests of characters by having to make hard choices and stand up for what they believe, and nobody pours their heart out. What they do is yap their asses off. Cleverly and enjoyably at times, yes, but brisk repartee does not a solid movie make.”
Seems like Mr. Wells didn’t hate it, which is reassuring, but all of this “too talky” business has me a bit concerned. I’ve read the Inglourious Bastards script twice now, so the claim of the film being overly-chatty isn’t a shock; the script just led me to believe that Tarantino’s direction and style flourishes could heighten the conversational tension into something far from mundane.
Round two goes to the corner of Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, who shares Wells’ feelings, though articulated a wee bit tougher:
“As the story [builds] into an espionage drama, Tarantino churns out the most conventional accomplishment of his career, Jackie Brown included. Sure, you can tear apart the layers of references to countless genres from multiple eras, but not with the same relish allowed by Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, where reading into the text and digging its natural flow were not mutually exclusive…….That’s hardly the case here. To watch Basterds without considering Tarantino’s implementation of enyclopedic movie knowledge makes it into a breezy, insignificant experience. Basterds is a talk-fest. Anyone familiar with the Tarantino touch will testify that the director likes to make his characters talk and talk and talk — and sometimes so that it ends up absorbing the spotlight. In Basterds we see the worst side-effects of this tendency.”
In the three-hole is Empire‘s Chris Hewitt, with a much happier, encouraging reaction:
The performances are superb across-the-board. Pitt is hilarious throughout, lending his lines that air of cocky movie-star insouciance that was a touchstone of his turns in the Ocean’s movies. But the standouts for me were Michael Fassbender, who deserves to become a star on the basis of his turn as British officer Lt. Archie Hicox, and Christoph Waltz, as the movie’s villain, Col. Hans Landa, aka The Jew Hunter…….
It’s certainly very talky, and there’s no doubt that Tarantino is in love with the sound of his characters’ voices, but QT dialogue is so much better than most other screenwriters that it’s hard to quibble. If all scenes in movies are about control, Tarantino understands that perhaps better than anybody, and some of the scenes here – the opening exchange between Landa and a French dairy farmer, and the Reservoir Dogs-esque scene in French bar, La Louisiane – are masterclasses in how to switch control from character to character. Indeed, both scenes are as tense as anything Tarantino has ever done in his career.”
Very glad to hear that the performances from Michael Fassbender and Christoph Waltz are standouts; those are two of my most anticipated turns here. Next to Melanie Laurent (who was singled out as very strong in a different write-up, thankfully) and Eli Roth (no mention of Roth’s performance yet, surprisingly, since his is such a wild role).
Now, back to the negativity. The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw despised the film probably more than any other writer:
“Quentin Tarantino‘s cod-WW2 shlocker about a Jewish-American revenge squad intent on killing Nazis in German-occupied France is awful. It is achtung-achtung-ach-mein-Gott atrocious. It isn’t funny; it isn’t exciting; it isn’t a realistic war movie, yet neither is it an entertaining genre spoof or a clever counterfactual wartime yarn. It isn’t emotionally involving or deliciously ironic or a brilliant tissue of trash-pop references. Nothing like that. Brad Pitt gives the worst performance of his life, with a permanent smirk as if he’s had the left side of his jaw injected with cement, and which he must uncomfortably maintain for long scenes on camera without dialogue.”
Damn, that one stings. Let’s bring this thing to homebase with one more positive take, to help me remain excited to see this film. From BBC News‘ Emma Jones:
“This is not an American movie. Rather, it’s Tarantino’s homage to the European cinema he adores. Indeed, there are so many scenes shot in French and German that an English-speaking audience will spend a lot of the film reading subtitles. Some will wish there were a few more, just so they can understand Pitt’s Tennessee-born, almost incomprehensible character. Inglourious Basterds clocks in at nearly three hours, and its director could certainly have trimmed more of its flab. This, and Pitt’s character not getting the screen time he deserves, are the main disappointments. It still can’t touch Pulp Fiction, which won the Palme D’Or in 1994, but the reaction here at Cannes is that Quentin Tarantino has made a glorious, silly, blood-spattered return. He is royalty at this festival – and as long as you can suspend disbelief and offence, he remains the king of trashy cinema.
Feelings and emotions toward Inglourious Basterds should continue to dominate the film website circuit throughout the remainder of the week, but I’ll avoid doing any more consensus gathering here. Honestly, it feels like this one’s going to be a critical punching bag, and I’d rather just see it for myself on August 21 for my ultimate conclusion.
Three Inglourious Basterds clips: More badass basterdry
Jeffrey Wells’ take: Whole Lotta Talkin’
Indiewire piece: Falling short of Tarantino’s own high bar, Inglourious goes bubblegum
Empire reaction, rubbing-it-in headline included: We’ve Seen Inglourious Basterds!
BBC write-up: Film Review: Inglourious Basterds