Saturday, 29 August 2009

A glourious mess

Quentin Tarantino is a very strange man. After all, he is the film geek turned master director who has admitted that September 11th "didn't affect him" because he'd seen it done in a Hong Kong action movie (see Johann Hari) and the skilful builder of tension through seemingly innocuous dialogue who abandoned his talent in favour of endless homages to gore-fests past, even putting his name to the awful Hostel.

The good news is that he brings that tension back in Inglourious Basterds, stretching scenes tight before they explode into violent fireworks. The bad news is that some of the mindlessness is back too. Most of the film is spent painstakingly involving the viewer with conversations that grow more menacing with each digression, the rest on kicking the viewer out as hard as possible.

The film ultimately ends up as a geek's triumph, a feature-length 'look-what-I-can-do' showreel that veers from an opening scene so good one German reviewer recommended Tarantino should chuck cinema altogether in favour of the stage (unlikely) to digressions including Spaghetti Western lettering splashed across the screen and an Open University-style demonstration of the chemical properties of nitrate film. When Mike Myers comes on as a British general in a scene played absolutely straight apart from his Austin Powers accent, you start to wonder if Tarantino isn't trying to show he could have made that film too (he could - the scene is hilarious). When Churchill arrives, you half expect the British Bulldog to have Ray Winstone's cockney growl.

Inglourious Basterds is by turns menacing, poignant (dead characters are resurrected on film) and, in the riotously ahistorical ending, ridiculous enough to be genuinely funny. The product of a struggle between two directors, one the slick pop-culture early 90s Tarantino, the other the B-movie obsessed teenager who made Death Proof, this film is a complete mess. The problem is it's all done with such enjoyably glorious style.

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