How to Improve Inglourious Basterds
How to Improve Inglourious Basterds
Warning: This isn’t a review, it’s an opinion piece on how better writing would have improved this movies. That means I’ll be revealing key plot points and even the ending. If you don’t want to know these things, don’t read this.
I have the same reaction to every film by Quentin Tarantino. If this were his first film, I’d think that, though the film is flawed, he’s a filmmaker with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’ll ever reach that potential and will continue to make spotty films, some of which will make a lot of money.
Ironically, his first film, Reservoir Dogs, may be his most accomplished because it’s his least flawed. But after so many of his films, I’m weary and resentful of just how much he lifts from other films. And enough of this homage bullshit—he steals way too much for that excuse to hold. The fact that he admits that he’s remaking the Italian film,
The Inglourious Bastards, doesn’t excuse the excessive stealing from other films. That’s one of the reasons his admirers are usually in their twenties; they haven’t seen enough movies to recognize the thefts, so it looks clever and original to them.
Yet, there are wonderful scenes, too. The long scene in the tavern with SS officer Hellstrom is suspenseful and entertaining. So is the opening scene with the French dairy farmer. Those scenes are brave because he lets the suspense build without impatiently rushing into action. And I admire his courage in abandoning historical accuracy to such an extent. In every film he’s made, there has been something so original and entertaining that I keep coming back for more. So, I hope he continues to be successful and make more movies. Maybe he will fool me and eventually make a fully realized film. He certainly has the potential.
What Needs Fixing:
1. Not enough action.
Yeah, there’s scalping and head bashing, but this story makes a promise that these guys are really good at what they do and we never see them do anything clever. Basically, they’re brutes. I’m okay with that if we see them do a variety of brutish things. Jews killing Nazis is the hook—so let’s have more fun with the concept. And the mass slaying of Nazis in the movie theater doesn’t really satisfy enough to count because it’s most a faceless mob.
2. Unnecessary scenes.
There are a few scenes that aren’t needed. For example, the scene with the wounded German actress, Bridget von Hammersmark. Brad Pitt sticks his finger in the bullet hole in her leg in order to get her to give him information. Two problems: (1) the information she gives is information that the audience already has, so it’s not interesting to us; (2) we’ve seen the finger-in-the-bullet-hole scenes often before. So, since we already have the info and we’ve seen this method of torture before, no need for the scene.
3. Actress shoots soldier.
Why does Bridget von Hammersmark shoot the likable German soldier who just became a father? There’s no good plot reason; there are many ways they might have incapacitated him. So the reason might be to make the German actress more villainess in order for us to not care much when evil Col. Hans Landa chokes her to death. But why? We already don’t care that much about her, and the fact that Brad Pitt is willing to torture her for info makes us care even less about her.
4. Everyone’s suicidal.
Why are all the protagonists so anxious to commit suicide? The challenge for a writer of having a handful of dedicated characters fighting against overwhelming odds is to see how the characters will create a clever plan to accomplish their goal and still have the chance to escape (if for no other reason than to kill more enemies again). The fact that the Basterds can only come up with blowing themselves up shows a lack of creativity in the writing. Same goes for Shosanna and Marcel. They don’t even try to create a plan that would allow them to escape, though they could easily accomplish their goal with a crude timer. It’s difficult to believe that her character, who was so aggressive in escaping when her family was slaughtered, would now commit suicide. Again, this is just lazy writing, contrived to create melodrama, but it’s neither believable nor satisfying.
5. Shootout in projection room.
Really? Zoller and Shosanna kill each other? Yes, there’s the usual predictable irony of having all this drama take place while the movie is running (done many times before). That one of therm might kill the other is perfectly acceptable and would have cranked up the suspense a notch. But having them shoot each other is, again, lazy melodrama that achieves no emotional impact.
6. Is the villain gay?
We never see Col. Landa having sex with men, but two things imply it: (1) How distraught he is when Brad Pitt shoots his driver/companion. Landa has not shown any honest emotional attachment to anyone throughout the movie, yet he’s nearly hysterical at the death of his driver. We know it’s not because he fears for his own life, because he doesn’t respond with fear, only anger and grief. (2) His sudden attack on Bridget von Hammersmark, in which he straddles her in mock sexuality while choking her to death indicates a deep hatred for women. This is the most passion he’s shown throughout the film. We know he doesn’t hate her because she’s a traitor, since he’s about to turn traitor himself. And if he needed her dead to further his own plot, he could have done so more dispassionately. Which raises the question: why make him gay? Is that supposed to be a villainous trait, even worse than slaughtering innocent people?
7. Goofy Hitler.
Hitler is portrayed as some sort of nutty parody better suited for a Monty Python spoof. By characterizing him this way, the stakes are lowered and so is the suspense. His death would have been more satisfying if he were a more believable character (like Col. Landa).
8. Carving Swastikas.
At the end, we’re supposed to get some sort of satisfaction when Brad Pitt carves the swastika in Landa’s forehead. That’s just the kind of redneck pettiness that passes for clever here. Landa’s made a generous financial deal with the U.S. that will make him wealthy enough to afford the best plastic surgeons. The audience knows that. We want something much more ingenious than this equivalent of toilet-papering the principal’s yard. We want something visceral—and permanent.
Summary: Some brilliant scenes. But whenever cleverness is required, the script takes the easy way out and opts for predictable and unsatisfying melodrama.