Let’s face it. After Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s work has slowly declined in popularity and quality. It was only natural, given the extent of Reservoir’s impact and Pulp’s cult status. Hit a career high first and you’ve only got a downwards slump ever after (unless you have time out and do a come-back). But despite this, his name is still big enough that most people - even the dim-witted general public - refer to Inglorious Basterds as “the new Tarantino one”, a feat that is rarely accomplished by directors, no matter how great they may be.
Inglorious has been floating round the Tarantino ideas pile for a while, even before he started Kill Bill, though it was weird to think of him producing a typical WW2 flick. Good job he hasn’t then. Inglorious is simply Tarantino does the 1940s, with some pre-drawn Hilter-shaped characters thrown in. The setting may be different, but we still have multiple plots, a chapter structure, smooth talking cool dudes, graphic violence and coincidences bringing everything together.
The multiple plots cover a girl with a grudge (a pretty deserved grudge really), a team of American Jews on a mission to kill Nazis (the Inglorious Basterds), and a handful of players from all sides. Brad Pitt’s lead Basterd is a drawling eccentric, a walk-in-the-park for Pitt whose presence doesn’t add the same as, say, Willis, Travlota and Sammy L did in the past. But it’s the non-Americans who steal the show. French actress Melanie Laurent plays grudge girl with finesse and is immediately likeable. And the prize for smooth talking cool dude goes to Austrian born Christoph Waltz, who plays the chief Jew-hunter (to put it bluntly) and emits such smooth intelligence and icy danger it’s both captivating and terrifying to watch.
Tarantino certainly knows how to create tension, each chapter building finger twisting apprehension before exploding into another bout of ultra-violent chaos. You will care how things turn out, and as it’s Tarantino there are of course some surprises on the way.
But the film isn’t quite as clever as it tries to appear, the plots not smartly intertwined, more occasionally crossing. The Basterds themselves feel somewhat superfluous and at times a little bit silly (the introduction of Eli Roth – director of Hostel – is a build up to an “errr..?” moment). There are probably hundreds of clever references to films that only Tarantino has seen, and of course references to his own films, reinforcing my belief that sooner or later he will remake one of his own, sparking an endless circle of remakes of the same film, by the same person, with increasing numbers of in-jokes, until a reality vortex is created that will destroy the world. That’s just my theory, anyway.
Basterds isn’t the huge career come-back that will put Tarantino back on his once held cult-King podium, but it is a well crafted, well acted thriller with some savage black comedy thrown in. A point just for Christoph Waltz’s performance, Inglorious Basterds gets a CF1.