Say what you will about the cinematic lightning-rod that is Inglorious Basterds’ writer/director Quentin Tarantino, but no other director has ever made sitting around a table so engrossing.
Though violence and profanity dominate public perception of the filmmaker, consider the on-screen conversations that have allowed Tarantino to build character and tension. Too bad the stuff following the talk in Inglorious Basterds proves less interesting than what you think could have happened.
Tarantino spins an alternate World War II-era reality about a take-no-Nazi-prisoners team of Jewish-American soldiers known as the Basterds—under Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)—operating in occupied France. They’re exactly the men to get involved when the premiere of a new propaganda film promises to gather the Third Reich’s top officials in one place—but the owner (Melanie Laurent) of the theater chosen for the premiere has her own plans.
A 1941-set prologue provides the first lengthy table talk, between a French farmer and Nazi Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Waltz builds the foundation for what becomes a terrific performance as he establishes his power with well-chosen words (and pulling out a bigger pipe). Waiting for the other jackboot to drop becomes a typically Tarantino-esque bit of anxious delight.
But, even when such conversations erupt into gunfire, Basterds doesn’t pack an emotional wallop. What’s missing is a protagonist whose fate will hook an audience, and not even the theater’s vengeance-driven owner fills that role. The Basterds are largely an anonymous amalgamation of parts—and Pitt’s jut-jawed performance seems like a better fit for the Coen brothers.
Indeed, the hugest disappointment of Basterds is that Tarantino occasionally seems tone deaf, whether it’s indulging performances or penning dialogue that lacks his typical crackle. We’re always willing to listen to his characters talk, provided we ultimately realize that the chatter matters. In Inglorious Basterds, it’s often just background noise.
Brad Pit, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent