After watching Quentin Tarantino's movie, "Inglourious Basterds," last week, I realized that, as a director at least, Tarantino has done a lot of growing.
Aside from starting out in Nazi-occupied France, as opposed to sunny Pasadena, Calif., the beginning of "Inglourious Basterds" feels almost exactly like "Kill Bill Vol. 1." The movie takes place in chapters, an entire family gets massacred by a ruthless scourge, and after four years of incubation, the scorned victim exacts revenge on all parties involved.
The targets of revenge in the "Kill Bil"l movies are members of the fictional Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, while the targets in "Inglourious Basterds" are the entire Nazi high command, including Adolf Hitler himself - a slightly more grandiose idea.
Like many of Tarantino's earlier movies, "Inglourious Basterds" is long and long-winded, but the dialogue and uncomfortable silences work to the movie's benefit.
In the opening scene, Col. Hans Landa of the Nazi intelligence service (played by Christopher Waltz), spends a nerve-racking 20 minutes sequestering a French peasant, who is suspected of harboring Jews. The viewer is on edge the whole time wondering where the scene is going, but in the end, it all makes perfect, chilling sense.
The scene is a far cry from the meaningless dialogue and very uncomfortable silences of "Reservoir Dogs," one of Tarantino's first films.
While "Reservoir Dogs" is considered by many to be a classic, the movie is jarring, tasteless, and moves at the pace of maple syrup running off the side of a coffee table. Rather than feeling like a movie watcher, the viewer is forced to feel like a blindfolded fly on the wall, given only piecemeal information about a storyline the viewer has no business caring about.
The entirety of "Reservoir Dogs" is highly pretentious, slapdash, and forced. Throughout the movie, the characters have long, irrelevant conversations about events that never happened, and brag about offing victims who were never dispatched in the film.
Mr. White, Blonde, Pink, Brown, Blue, and Orange all try to act like tough guys, but it was easier to believe they were all living in their mothers' basements.
Another troubling aspect of Tarantino's earlier films was his use of racial epithets. In "Reservoir Dogs," there is a scene in which several of the hired bank robbers are driving along and ragging each other, when Mr. Pink, played by Steve Buscemi, randomly says to the other bank robbers (all Caucasians) that everybody in the car is "acting like a bunch of [n-words]."
In that scene, the "n-bomb" comes completely out of left field and feels almost like an accident, as the only black character in the movie is an undercover cop who makes a brief appearance in a flashback sequence.
Ultimately, "Reservoir Dogs" is a movie about unbelievable characters that no one can sympathize, or identify, with. Everybody dies at the end of the movie and nobody really cares.
In "Inglorious Basterds," nothing seems out of place. There are still unexplained elements (such as the scar on the neck of Brad Pitt's character, Lt. Aldo Raine), but everything feels purposeful and one comes to love and hate the characters in the movie.
Col. Landa is complex, passionate, racist, and perfectly sinister, while the comic wit of Lt. Raine is perfectly timed and surprisingly astute.
While Tarantino's movies are still joyfully immature, it seems like the director may have finally found his voice. His future movies will probably offend someone, but at least, that will most likely be on purpose.
Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.