Nobody likes Nazis.
In fact, everybody hates Nazis. Especially Quentin Tarantino. There’s really no other explanation for “Inglorious Basterds.”
And for a Tarantino film, a motivation so thin as “let’s make a movie about killing Nazis because we hate Nazis” just isn’t good enough. The result is an underdeveloped, self-indulgent piece of film that’s slow, boring, inconsequential, and should leave viewers uncomfortable.
For some reason, though, it seems everybody but me, at least who I know, has found “Basterds” to be spectacular.
Which I don’t get. While the movie carries the usual Tarantino flair and the dialogue clips along in that tense, long-winded way that made the man famous with “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” it also drags. Substantially.
For every tense scene of powerful dialogue, there are 10 more where it’s long-winded to no gain. The dialogue is so slow because most of the characters who have lots and lots (and lots) to say are often totally inconsequential. Mike Myers as a British general giving a rundown to a special ops soldier. The SS commander hanging out in a bar. The turncoat German movie actress. The Nazi war hero turned propaganda film star. The German soldier whose wife just had a baby. Hitler and his advisers. Brad Pitt pumping up his soldiers. They all just blab at one another, shooting the shit about things that should have been edited out of the script in favor of lines that matter.
Not one of these moments is concise. They drag, plodding along through lines and lines of dialogue, which alone are interesting but when taken together represent a huge amount of wasted script space. It may sound natural and it may color the scene, but it doesn’t push the story forward. At all. It actually works against moving the plot onward by creating a convoluted mess of people that need to be kept straight, regardless of whether they’re important for more than the next five minutes. Usually, they’re not.
I say inconsequential because very little time is spent with any single character, and certainly not enough to develop them. We’re constantly bounced from place to place to see bits of a story developing, and we get the impression that eventually all these lines will weave together, but the final payoff isn’t worth all the work.
Because we can’t get behind any of the characters, the eventualities of their various plotlines aren’t really that interesting. Spend five minutes meeting the British spec-ops guy, see him in one scene, lose him again. Meet particularly brutal members of the Basterds, watch them in one scene, lose them again. It’s a badly written, badly edited hodgepodge of various bits in which no one was around to say to Tarantino, “hey, this is a little boring. And who’s that guy?”
But what bothered me most about “Inglorious Basterds” is the only thing it’s consistent about – repeatedly torturing and murdering Nazi soldiers.
Now, c’mon, I hate Nazis and other various mass murders as much as anyone. But Tarantino isn’t just violent in “Basterds,” he’s sadistic. At every turn. And not for the purposes of the film – more likely, for the purposes of self-indulgence.
The Basterds themselves, a small group of all-Jewish soldiers led by Pitt, have a singular goal: demoralize the enemy. They’re meant to do this by stealthily stalking around France starting just before D-Day, brutally murdering Nazis and taking their scalps, among other things.
This I get. Send a message, freak out the troops. Good idea.
But we spend next to no time with the Basterds as a group, or their mission of messing with the Nazis. What we do get to see, lots and lots and lots of times, is the Basterds with unarmed, defenseless German soldiers. The Basterds then go about killing or maiming or killing then maiming these soldiers.
One scene has two soldiers firing indiscriminately into the backs of Nazi and German party members and a great number of civilians as they flee.
It’s a massacre.
And what’s more, it’s murder. We’re not seeing fighting in war, or even the brutality of war. What we’re seeing is the glorification of murder and pain. Yes, these people are Nazis, but plenty of Nazi soldiers were conscripts from conquered nations. Other Nazi soldiers were just German soldiers who became “Nazi” when the German government became “Nazi.” The point is, not everyone in the Nazi party was pulling switches to gas Holocaust victims.
So does being a Nazi mean these guys need to be executed or carved up? I’m still a believer in some kind of honor among soldiers, at least in film. But Tarantino’s Nazi movie feels like a video game. His goal: Kill as many Nazis as brutally as possible.
To me, it comes off as masturbation.
Lacking a stronger plot or characters whose stories I care about, I’m just not into killin’ Nazis for the sake of killin’ Nazis.
Watch the final scene involving Hitler and I think you’ll see my point.