OK... I'm going to come right out and say it. Inglorious Basterds is a bad movie. Not bad as in shitty, but bad as in poorly executed, unfocused and disappointing. I think Tarantino really dropped the ball here, for reasons I'll come to. It certainly starts out with a bang, an opening segment worthy of all the hype with Tarantino working to his strengths and pumping on all cylinders. But then the film develops a slow leak and as it wears on and on, all the energy and magic drains out of it until we're left with an homage homage, a reflection of a reflection with nothing at its core.
Basterds has a single overriding problem: It's not immediately clear what the film is supposed to be. As a war-time thriller (or even as Zionist revenge porn), it just doesn't seem to mean business. It lacks the cold seriousness that's given Tarantino's cinematic brutality so much of its power and impact in the past. If anything, it seems to be a comedy that just isn't very funny. I want to focus for a moment on the idea that Tarantino's usage of extreme violence has been typically steeped in the seriousness of his scripts. Starting with Reservoir Dogs and then through Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bills, every act of brutality is perpetrated on (or by) a character we are emotionally connected to and involved with. We may not like them, but we know them. Not so in Inglorious Basterds. We know nearly nothing about the Basterds themselves, except through the not-so-ironically-fascistic, eye-for-an-eye rhetoric of Pitt's Aldo Raine. The characters they kill, maim and scalp are simply “Nazis” and Tarantino treats them as nearly anonymous thus reducing the violence to utter meaninglessness. It plays as pure sadism without the emotional involvement of character context and I think this is what critics that see the film as “wildly insensitive” are getting at. I'm not sure I disagree.
Inglorious Basterds is a clear misstep in Tarnatino's filmography where he delivers on occasion but misses the larger target of creating a coherent and contained narrative. The plot drifts toward complete banality as the reality of history dovetails less and less effectively with Quentin's desire to make a Grindhouse war flick. He therefore just makes up a new one to suit the story he wants to tell. Surely to God a relatively true story could have been culled from a war as well-documented as WW2 was. It didn't have to be factually accurate but Inglorious Basterds ends up in Watchman territory without needing to. I'm not saying I wanted a BBC World at War episode but granting artistic license to fuck around with history to the degree Tarantino does in Inglorious Bastards is a stretch.
Which brings me back to my recent (and I might add, hitherto uncommented upon) master-post on comic book movies, a genre that I think Inglorious Basterds clearly belongs in. Once again, this is an accomplished film that resonates below its potential because it lacks the dramatic underpinnings that separate great films from big films, something audiences rarely “get” anymore.
I'll skip all the commentary on the "film as weapon for good" horseshit and leave my thoughts on the movie at that. I can see your little cinephile fists shaking right now so let fly your rebuttals, you little basterds.