Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Film: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

After a long streak of great films, I figured Quentin Tarantino had finally begun a downward spiral following the surprisingly flawed Death Proof. The mixed reviews of Inglourious Basterds coming out of Cannes supported that theory. So my expectations were pretty low. As it turns out, I was dead wrong. Basterds is a unique, fun, and mature addition to QT's repertoire.

Basterds is a fictionalized WWII tale set in Nazi-occupied France. Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads a group of Jewish-Americans (and two German defectors) on a mission with one goal: kill as many Nazis as possible. These "Basterds" and their brutal tactics effectively terrorize the SS. Meanwhile, a young cinema proprietor named Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent) attracts the attention of a Nazi war hero-turned-actor, who insists on screening his movie at her theatre. What he doesn't know is that Shoshanna - a Jew in hiding - witnessed her family slaughtered by Nazis, and has revenge on her mind. When word of the premiere gets out, the Basterds plan to sabotage the event and hopefully kill a large portion of the attending Third Reich.

Like some of QT's previous films, this one is broken into chapters. This technique is especially appropriate here because the story is more like a fairy tale than a history lesson. It even begins with "Once upon a time...." There are hundreds of films portraying the bleak realities of WWII, but Basterds is not one of them. Frankly, I have seen enough movies about the Jews being tortured, gassed, burned, and buried - it's about time we get to see them kicking Nazi ass! There is only one scene of violence against Jews in this entire film - but a dozen against the SS. And it's awesome. Maybe it never really happened, but who cares? It is very satisfying.

However, one way Basterds is more accurate than most of its predecessors is the fact that the Germans speak German and the French speak French. English is only used when appropriate or explained, and the rest is left to subtitles. Often times, the languages switch back and forth. To accomplish this task, Tarantino hired very talented bilingual actors like Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Brühl, and Christoph Waltz. All do an amazing job, and give the film a feeling of authenticity. On the American end, Pitt's tongue-in-cheek performance is hilarious.

As much as I love the entire cast, I have to single-out the golden child of this movie - Christoph Waltz. He portrays the charming, scene-stealing Nazi villain, Col. Hans Landa. He provides some of the film's funniest moments, and easily gives the strongest performance. Dare I say, this is the greatest performance Tarantino has ever gotten from any actor. QT said himself he could never have made this movie without Waltz. The former tv actor is one of those brilliant untapped thespians, and I'm so glad Tarantino exposed him to the world. I have no doubts that the 2009 Supporting Actor Oscar is his, especially after winning Cannes' Best Actor prize. It is impossible to watch Basterds and not be captivated by Col. Landa every second he is on screen.

Okay, enough gushing about Christoph. I also must mention the great gore FX courtesy of Greg Nicotero and his crew, and the incredible score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone. All these elements combine into a fantastical war film with the heart of a western. Tarantino's story and dialogue are great, and his self-love is kept to a minimum this time. I have read parts of the original screenplay, and can see where much of his rambling dialogue was cut, thankfully. Contrary to my worries, it is very possible that his films are only getting better.


hitmandj said...

I figured your review would be all about Christoph with a brief mention of Inglorious Basterds, j/k. Good review.

Sean D said...

I was surprised you didn't pick on Eli, but you did say this was a quick review. I know you had to cut it short to get working on that essay dedicated to Landa/ Waltz. :P

Seriosuly though, nice review. I wasn't sure if you would give this a full five out of five or not. That's awesome that you did! You know how I feel about this movie. Even with the plot holes, it's incredible!

Also, good mentioning the screenplay. I finally finished reading through it. There were a ton of changes during production that made the movie all the better. Plus, it helps when you have a cast as talented as this one.

"Paris when it sizzles."