August 26, 2009
Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds: Why Does a Review Have To Be a Pick OR a Pan? Why Not Both?
I went to see Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds over the weekend with two friends, both of whom walked out of the theater furious and ready to strangle Mr. Tarantino, myself, or each other. They were riled up, let me tell you. I also had to endure one of those friends’ persistent (involuntary, he claims) sighs throughout, and the other friend claimed he had fallen asleep at times. Further, there was at least one idiot stranger in the theater who loudly offered up some keen witticisms during quiet moments in the film, like “DAMN!” Yet in spite of all this negativity and frustration around me I did NOT hate the picture. Granted, I didn’t really like it either, but my middle-of-the-road opinion really seems to put me in the vast minority, as critics line up to either file a love-letter, or a no-holds-barred excoriation. Just perusing the different (wildly different!) reviews on Rotten Tomatoes could make you feel like Harvey “Two-Face” Dent. It seems that most critics are just as ardent as my ranting, raving friends, and/or the "damn!" fanboy who unfortunately very nearly ruined the movie by...adding his own soundtrack.
So it is with sadness that I report that I can’t pick a side. I would love to give a heated review – pro OR con – but I can’t muster up the proper passion in either direction. There were parts that I really liked a lot – huge long scenes full of tension and crackling dialogue and wonderful acting. There were visually wonderful moments, great moments of broad comedy, some big, huge entertaining performances (Christoph Waltz as Nazi Col Hans Landa being the prime example) as well as some understated, lovely performances (like Melanie Laurent as fugitive Jew Shosanna Dreyfus). On the flip side, there was some horrific, needless nastiness (I guess that’s par for the Tarantino course) some vast stretches of boredom, a general queasiness about what the film itself is saying, and some absolutely atrocious performances (Brad Pitt in the nominal “lead” is hard to watch, but Eli Roth absolutely steals the dumb show by being an insanely, heinously, pitiously bad actor).
Part of the problem is that the good piled on top of the bad -- inseparable and jumbled. Wonderful moments were regularly ruined by leading nowhere, enough empty moments accumulated to create boredom, only to be followed by a tense, taut, flawless scene that would grab you and not let go for what felt like an eternity. Wonderful, lived-in characters were never developed, and stood side-by-side in the frame with huge ridiculous monstrous characters shamelessly mugging to the cheapest seats. Clever, creative ideas about the nature and character of film itself were hamfistedly executed. I laughed with the theater; I sighed with my friend.
So did the good ultimately outweigh the bad? Did those cartoonishly bad performances detract from the glistening ones? Did the diamondlike moments of perfectly calibrated tension get undercut by the snoring wind whistling across the wide, wild plains of boredom?
Um...maybe? Yes and no? Meh? How terrible a review is this? I can’t even say how strange I feel coming down squarely on the fence of a love-it-or-hate-it movie! I can always concoct a strong opinion – usually a violently strong opinion – about ANYthing, be it small or massive. Perhaps the most damning criticism I can level at Inglourious Basterds is that I just didn’t really care about it enough to generate any opinion, strong or otherwise. That in and of itself might be the ultimate pan.