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The Pratfalls of Shooting from the Hip: 'Basterds' Redux.

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn August 19, 2009 at 2:55AM

The Pratfalls of Shooting from the Hip: 'Basterds' Redux.
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My Cannes review of Inglourious Basterds, which appeared for a second time in IndieWIRE this week, brought back memories of a busy week. I reviewed around two dozen movies at Cannes this year, leading to the sort of hectic deadlines that a newsroom usually only reaches in the wake of a national catastrophe. Information moves fast these days, particularly in the ever-transient world of the festival circuit, where a big movie on one day becomes history by the next. I tapped out my late morning reaction to Basterds shortly after the 8:30 a.m. press screening, finishing it up while Tarantino and Brad Pitt still had a few minutes to go in the press conference a few feet away.

Writing these sort of instant reactions provides a unique experience each time. I won't deny that there's a sheer thrill involved in capturing critical ephemera in the precise moment they come together, but I don't want to discredit the value of taking time to deliberate over one's feelings to deliver a thoughtful analysis. As it happens, upon returning to my Basterds reaction on Tuesday, I found little about my opinion that I would change, although I could have used some extra time to refine a few of the ideas. I do think the movie relies too heavily on dialogue that's rarely as clever as Tarantino intends for it to be, and that the espionage plot drags near the middle (even in the post-Cannes cut, which I saw a few days ago). It may have been a good idea to answer some of the questions I posed in the final graf: Why does Tarantino do this or that? Well, because he wants to. As an auteur, Tarantino embodies the "want to" tendencies, truly becoming a kid in the candy store of cinema pastiche. Generally, that's been enough for me. Here, I'm mixed.

I think the first third of Basterds moves quite efficiently, and I even found the documentary tangents and the Western soundtrack a lot more entertaining on my second viewing. I should have focused more clearly on the strength of Christoph Waltz's performance, as he's probably the only believable persona in the whole movie, even when he chooses to go over the top. But nothing in Basterds matches the genuine flow of Pulp Fiction or near-perfect blend of homage and new age spectacle that Tarantino accomplished with the Kill Bill movies. Basterds has some strong moments, but it's real accomplishment has less to do with its cinematic merits than the implications of its radical climax. (See my cover story in the current issue of Heeb if you want to know more.) Of course, since I'm not a major Basterds defender, you'll have to look elsewhere for a deeper analysis of the film. As the not-so-subtly-disguised commenter "jeffreichert9" points out on the page where my review has been posted, this essay offers some interesting thoughts.

This article is related to: Independent Cinema