Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Inglorious

My wife and I saw Tarantino's new Inglorious Basterds on Friday. This is a film I have been anticipating for about three years ever since I saw the first news story about its possible production (of course the rumors then had Adam Sandler in the film, which would have been something). You can find a lot of reviews about the movie online, so I'm not writing a review just some post-theatre thoughts, which may not all fit coherently together.

The Good

There were some beautiful shots in the movie. Shots that reminded the viewer of why Tarantino is a top-notch talent as a director. The movie was also very suspenseful at points, and the viewer never lost interest, even through lots of subtitles.

The acting was terrific. Brad Pitt was over the top and enjoyable. Christoph Waltz had a performance of a lifetime. The casting was great, and their presence on screen was organic. Very nice.

Tarantino set the film up nicely to be a critical reaction to the way Americans view: war, war films, Abu Ghraib, and justice issues. The director wants us to cheer for the group of American soldiers (the Inglorious Basterds)while they scalp and beat to death with baseball bats fully surrendered German prisoners of war. It all makes the thinking viewer wonder if American atrocity is so much more tolerable than Nazi atrocity? If so, why?

The Bad

The film concludes with no solution to its problem. Does Tarantino want us to leave the theatre thinking war crimes (like those committed by the Basterds) are appropriate if the enemy is bad enough? He never imagines an alternative. All the characters are driven by violence, revenge, and selfishness. No person in the movie does anything virtuous, which might precisely be his point: in war there is no virtue. However, we can all imagine characters that wrestle with forgiveness and hope in a war situation. In that sense, at least a movie like Sergeant York attempts to wrestle with a solution, even if ultimately it is wrong.

The Inglorious

Genocide is not a setting for a film that can't propose something. At least a movie like The Reader asserts the merit of literacy. If Tarantino is going to create an alternative history like he does in this movie, then he needs to think through the problems. Is there a God in Tarantino's universe, or morality, or are Holocaust survivors supposed to be comforted that everyone is equally as evil? I cannot imagine that Tarantino would make this film set in Rwanda, so why is it appropriate for him to use the Holocaust? This film was larger than he anticipated, and in my opinion, he dropped the ball on offering anything substantial apart from a beautifully shot movie.

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