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Consumed With Hate: Inglorious Basterds

🐍 Don't Call Me Little Bastard, Call Me Snake...

The Crime: Inglorious Basterds
The Guilty Party: Quentin Tarantino
Overview: Tarantino's already self-indulgent filmmaking style consumes its own tail...

Why I Hate It...

There was a time in my life when I would have called Quentin Tarantino one of my favorite directors. Pulp Fiction is one of the four movies that I bought during the shopping trip to pick up my first DVD player. And while my enthusiasm waned for his subsequent movies, my insistence that they were excellent did not. I had convinced myself that Kill Bill, Vol. 1 was a fantastic movie, just one that I never actually felt like watching. But then there was a moment where I changed my mind. It was like flipping a switch. The scales fell from my eyes and I realized that, oh, I don't actually like Tarantino's schtick all that much. And this was that moment...

Starting at about 3:39 in the clip the two characters get into a nonsensical disagreement about whether or not the situation they're in technically qualifies as a "Mexican standoff" or not. An already ponderous movie stops dead in its tracks to debate about the definition of a phrase that is only the American vernacular at all right now because Quentin Tarantino put it there via Reservoir Dogs. It's a douchey, self-congratulatory non sequitur that is completely out of character for the people in this scene. And the impact of it was so profound on me that I found myself re-evaluating the man's entire oeuvre and coming down on the negative side.

Now, I'm definitely not saying that Tarantino is a bad filmmaker. Indeed, when it comes to hyper-violent non-linear pastiches of genres that I'm not interested in, there is no one better. Joking aside, he is very good at executing his very specific visual style, and it's built on solid cinematic fundamentals. He has a good eye for framing and scene geography and elicits some amazing performances from his actors. And even the movies of his that I genuinely dislike, I have to admit that that they have some fantastic sequences. But at the end of the day, I am rankled by the way he tells stories, and no amount of fine craftsmanship is going to change that. It's like german chocolate cake. It wouldn't matter if it was made by the finest boulanger you could fly in from Paris; coconut makes me gag, so I'm not going to like it.

So, what is it about Quentin Tarantino that I find bothersome? Well, I'm glad you asked, metaphorical reader.

For starters, while I like his dialog for the most part, I don't like it nearly as much as he does. His scenes go on too long and contain far too many digressions and asides. Often this happens within scenes, but sometimes there are whole sequences that feel like an eddy in the current rather than a channel we should actually be paying attention to. Like the Bruce Lee bit in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood... What purpose did it serve, other than protracted backstory that was literally interrupting another scene? Getting back to the general repartee, these diatribes are not advancing the story and they, frankly, aren't as interesting as Tarantino seems to think they are (looking at you, diner sequence from Reservoir Dogs), so I tend to lose interest before they've finished.

Related to that, his movies tend to lack narrative drive. Part of this is a symptom of being non-linear, but that doesn't really excuse anything. I mean, Christopher Nolan makes non-linear movies all the dang time, but they still have a sense of plot momentum. It can be done, usually by tracking thematic arcs instead of narrative ones and by interleaving story threads that are out of sequence with each other but are still consistent within themselves. Tarantino does not do this. And the combination of aimlessness and scene bloat makes for movies that are long but feel even longer and don't seem to go anywhere.

Next, and this is a particular pet peeve of mine, I'm of the opinion that if you're going to do alternate history, that can't be a surprise that crops up in the last ten to fifteen minutes. I hated it when Inglorious Basterds did it--don't get me wrong, by all means kill Hitler, but you've got to foreshadow that shit! And I hated it in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood... as well, and that soured a movie that I'd overall been mostly enjoying up until that point.

Finally, there's just an overall sense of auteur excess. When a filmmaker (or novelist, or whatever) with a readily identifiable style gets popular and has fewer people around to tell them no, and they tend to turn into caricatures of themselves. Now, Tarantino hasn't fallen as far down this particular well as, say, Tim Burton, but everything he's made from Kill Bill on has had too much fat, too much cartoony violence (literally, in some cases), and manic-pixie-dream-girl levels of quirkiness. I mean, it's telling that I still love Pulp Fiction, which was only his second movie. I've re-watched it recently and it's still a classic. But even though all of his excesses and quirks are present, they are significantly reigned in.

Tune in next week for what is probably the least thrilling thriller ever co-authored by an ex-president: Bill Clinton and James Patterson's The President is Missing.

In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.