It’s hard to tell who’s more passionate: Quentin Tarantino’s über-loyal fanboys or his passionately vocal detractors. For every cinephile who argues Tarantino and his “Pulp Fiction” are the greatest things to happen to the movie biz since the advent of the talkies, there is someone happy to lambast the director and films like “Grindhouse.”
His latest writer/director effort, “Inglourious Basterds,” which came out Friday (August 21), has predictably created the same critical fault lines, though certainly not in even numbers. No doubt the film’s subject matter — the Holocaust, Nazi-hunters, revenge seekers and one character whose evilness rivals that of anyone ever captured on celluloid — has augmented and colored those reactions.
So what will you think? Check out our breakdown of the “Basterds” reviews to find out what everyone’s saying before you head into the theater.
For some, “Basterds” is the movie that fans have been waiting for since the director began making feature films. “It’s not enough to say that ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is Quentin Tarantino’s best movie,” wrote Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s the first movie of his artistic maturity, the film his talent has been promising for more than 15 years. The picture contains all the things his fans like about Tarantino — the wit, the audacity, the sudden violence — but this movie’s emotional core and bigness of spirit are new.”
But for some, it is Tarantino’s signature style that never meshes with his material. “If only the Allies had had Tarantino on their side; he could have made Hitler’s head explode,” the Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday declared. “As it happens, they must instead settle on having their actions and exploits extruded through his own bizarre sense of cruelty, spectacle and talky, post-modern irony. (Characters are routinely introduced by way of cheesy ’70s-era screen titles.)”
While our own Kurt Loder found much lacking in “Basterds,” calling the film “basically an extended gag,” he did single out its remarkable style. “The movie is beautifully photographed (by Robert Richardson, who also shot Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’ pictures),” he wrote for MTV News. “There’s also some gorgeous imagery: A shot of an ecstatic face rearing up on a screen amid engulfing flames is one of the most striking things Tarantino has ever come up with — it actually recalls some of the great old UFA silent films.”
What everyone can agree on is the extraordinary — and disturbing — performance of Christoph Waltz as Nazi colonel Hans Landa. He’s already won the best actor award at Cannes and is being mentioned as a possible Oscar candidate. “Landa is a vision of big-screen National Socialist villainy, from the smart cut of his SS coat to the soft gleam of his leather boots,” says Manohla Dargis of The New York Times. “Mr. Waltz’s performance is so very good, so persuasive, seductive and, crucially, so distracting that you can readily move past the moment if you choose.”
For all the flaws that some critics have sought to highlight, it is the film’s first-rate performances and Tarantino’s visual style that become the truly memorable aspects of this bloodily violent affair. “Like Spielberg, Tarantino is director enough to elicit cinematic wows even at his most reprehensible,” writes Slate.com‘s Dana Stevens. “Though ‘Basterds’ is overlong and undisciplined, it contains individual set pieces — that opening encounter in the French farmhouse and a later scene in which the Basterds go undercover as German officers in the basement of a tavern — that are near-perfect examples of taut, suspenseful moviemaking.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Inglourious Basterds.”
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