But, as Harvey Kietel so directly puts it in Pulp Fiction, don't think that I'm about to start sucking Inglorious Basterds' dick just yet. In fact, I won't be reaching that pinnacle point of passion at all. While Inglorious undoubtedly contains sequences and moments that whole-heartily win my admiration, the totality of it is a nasty mess, the end-product of talented visualist and witty gag-ster who may now be officially sliding towards the valley of his career (stitch the second half of Death Proof onto Inglorious Basterds and you have the weakest 200 minutes of Tarantino's portfolio). If the films within the span of Resevoir Dogs - Death Proof were criticized or disliked for specific reasons, one could never accuse those previous works of Tarantino of being dull, sloppy, or ill-conceived. Yet, that's the gulping, swallowing truth here about Inglorious Basterds, a movie that plays out in five Chapters because, well, how else would QT have convinced us to sit through this disaster (see (500) Days of Summer for another recent film that used similar tactics of distraction).
"Chapter 5 : THE REVENGE OF THE GIANT FACE" is Inglourious Basterd's most intriguing and well-executed chunk, followed closely by the opening "Once Upon A Time..." salvo which ends with Christoph Waltz's segment-ending shout of "Au Revoir Sho-SHA-NA!", a line delivered with such instant-icon gusto that we are sure to hear it repeated often in the future as another of Tarantino's most quotable moments. But despite its victories, Inglourious' "GIANT FACE" portion still feels like that one epic song at the end of an otherwise uneven and disappointing album that you'd been anticipating. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to me if Tarantino dreampt up this sequence first and built the rest of IB around it. The elegantly executed double-murder-in-the-projection-booth moment mixed in with the sheer lunacy of a projected poltergeist-like image of a woman shouting down a theater full of Nazis as they burn in flames ignited by the spark of old film stock is so supremely absurd enough to actually work.
As for the "BASTERDS" segment (Chapter 2)? Yawn. After Brad Pitt showed comedic range (again) last year with his performance in Burn After Reading, I at least expected an entertaining effort from him here. Instead, Pitt appeared to be three times over-playing a role that needed to be over-played, but not by that great of a length. Pitt's lower-jaw becomes his comedic crutch to lean on simply because nothing else seems to be churning behind those eyes of his. Much in the way Pitt's fidgeting and mannerisms in 12 Monkeys drove me, er..., bananas, his jutted-out jaw here in Inglourious really wore me out. Did Pitt just mail it in? Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I do think he sold us (and himself) way short.
But as performances go, Inglorious Basterds is truly owned by its little known foreign actors and actresses, specifically Melanie Laurent in the role of Shoshanna Dreyfus. Much of Laurent's screen time consists of quiet nods, glances, and emotional pull-backs in the form of subtle arm movements or protected posture, all of which is a welcome contrast to Tarantino's manic-ness. Also excellent is Daniel Bruhl in the role of Nazi folk-hero/film star Fredrick Zoller. Bruhl's intensely upturned smile and gentle eyes afford him the tools to pull off the bizarre character of the "aw shucks"-Nazi. Together, Laurent and Bruhl are what's worth taking from Inglourious Basterds.
Some of Tarantino's slip-in references are cute, especially his wink to Henri George-Clouzot's Le Corbeau, a confrontational and controversial film - of its time - if there ever was one. Sure, slapping the film's title onto the marquee of Shoshanna's theater plays out accurately in that a French theater would indeed be screening Le Corbeau in 1944, but within Inglourious it also serves as an extension of Shoshanna's character, a metaphorical middle finger raised to French collaborators, the apathetic, and occupying Nazis alike. But, on the flipside, Tarantino's invoking of Howard Hawks' humane Sergeant York in the same breath of a Joseph Goebble's propaganda film shows disrespect for Gary Cooper's performance in that film.
Finally, there is one lasting curiosity that has been lingering with me tonight: If people are fine with Tarantino playing wacky with a horrific historical event (ie "the hunting of Jews"), then I hope they will now lay off Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, a film that is often trounced upon for playing sentimental with the same subject matter. For the record, neither film's historical reimaginings or liberty-takings bother me, I just find it curious that some people are much more offended by a sentimental paint job than one of hard-violence and goofball humor.