Review: “Inglourious Basterds”

August 23, 2009 at 12:46 pm Leave a comment

Leave it up to Quentin Tarantino to get the American public flocking to see a foreign film.  Yep, that’s right . . . foreign.  Although produced by Hollywood, it sports a largely European cast with only maybe 20% of the dialogue in English.

Inglourious Basterds is the fictitious tale of Jewish-American soldiers dropped into Nazi-occupied France, with orders to wreak as much havoc as they can upon the German military.  It’s also the story of a young Jewish woman who survived the slaughter of her family by the Nazis in the French countryside.  The two intertwine and meet when the stories’ objectives fall on the premiere of a much-hyped pro-Nazi film.

I won’t go into the details of the plot or the characters, since that’s most of the fun of watching a Tarantino film.  What I want to put down in this blog post is why I think this was Tarantino’s best film since Jackie Brown and why his dialogue no longer annoys me.

It could be argued that Quentin Tarantino makes satires.  Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction might be satires of gangster pictures.  Jackie Brown is a satire of the Blaxploitation movement of the 1960’s and ’70’s.  Kill Bill Vol. 1 is a 70’s chop-socky flick, while Vol. 2 was a spaghetti western.  And Death Proof was a horror/thriller.  Here, we have Tarantino’s satire/spoof/re-imagining of not only the WWII film, but the spy movie as well.  And he pulls it off brilliantly.

While I don’t share Brad Pitt’s sentiment that this is the be-all-end-all of WWII movies, Inglourious Basterds seems to be a refinement of everything Tarantino has done so far.  Every scene, every word uttered moves the story forward.  In Death Proof, one of the things that annoyed me was the dialogue.  Half the time I wanted to yell “Move on!” to the characters when someone’s speech was rambling too much.  Here, you’ll find the trademark dialogue-heavy scenes, but there’s a purpose to each word.  Tarantino is able to build tension easily with the characters and their speech.  Again, in Death Proof, I didn’t feel any tension at all, with the exception of the well-done chase scene.  Here, the opening scene (or opening chapter, as the film groups scenes together by chapter), builds the tension and the drama from the beginning, with the interrogation of a Frenchman suspected of hiding Jews.

Later on the film, a group of undercover Basterds are trying to make contact with an informant, only to be interrupted by a German officer.  Although some I talked to said the scene played on too long, I felt it was just the right length, only straying on the ‘too long’ timeframe.  It slowly escalated the quiet conflict as the question of ‘Will they be discovered?’ played over every line.

The acting is also very good, with an exceptional performance by Christoph Waltz as the Nazi colonel Hans Landa and  and a funny turn by Brad Pitt as the film’s posterboy, American Lt. Aldo Raine.  What I like about the performances, and this could also be applied to Tarantino, is that the actors seem to be given free reign over their characters.  I’m sure Quentin had something in mind when he created Lt. Raine, but I feel as though Pitt came in and was allowed to make the character as over-the-top and ridiculous as he wanted.  Considering the context of this particular film, being ridiculous is hardly out of place.  Waltz’s Landa, to me, is probably one of the best performances of the year.  He’s friendly, personable, cold, calculating, arrogant; you name it, he’s probably got that trait or something like it.  Landa is like the perfect neighbor and your worst nightmare rolled into one.

If there’s one thing glaringly missing from the film is that  the story seems to forget about the rest of the Basterds.  We spend time with maybe only half of them.  The others we don’t really even see except for one scene.  Also, at the end of the movie, BJ Novak’s Pvt. Utivich gets some considerable screen time, but I hardly remember him at all in the previous 2-and-a-half hours.  Someone mentioned to me that there’s probably a longer cut in the works that is able to fit in contributions from the other Basterds.  I’m inclined to agree, since I’d love to see more of Til Schweiger’s Nazi-killing German, Stiglitz

Inglourious Basterds is a return to form, of sorts, for Quentin Tarantino.  It’s sharp, funny, the plot is superbly paced, and all the technical details (cinematography, sound, editing, etc) are spot on.  One of the purest forms of ‘cinema’ I’ve seen so far this year.

9/10

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