Posted by: steveonfilm | August 23, 2009

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

[Update below]

Title: Inglorious Basterds
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Writer(s):Quentin Tarantino
Staring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, B.J. Novak, Omar Doom

Inglourious Basterds is like a punk rock group that changed to pop rock to sell more records, but still shows flashes of their rebellious streak to remind their fans deep down inside they’re still the same group they’ve always been.

I’ve been a fan of Quentin Tarantino since I was about fifteen years old. A buddy of mine let me borrow a VHS copy of Reservoir Dogs that his older brother owned. It was the first time that I really got into a movie about “bad guys,” and one of the movies that made me start to think about film as a career. I followed Tarantino all through the 90s and into my adult life (as did most people my age). Through the ups of Pulp Fiction, and the downs of Jackie Brown and Four Rooms. I watched the grit of True Romance and Natural Born Killers, and the grime of From Dusk Till Dawn. Tarantino went from being the voice of a new generation of maverick filming, to a brand name marketed by Hollywood attract a very specific demographic.

While that can be seen as a negative by hipsters, and originalists out there, in the hands of a man like Tarantino, it allows a movie like Inglourious Basterds to be made. So I think it only seems fitting that in Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino does a lot of what he became known for with a lot of wink, wink, nod, nod.

Inglourious Basterds is very much an adult film. It has all the graphic and poignant violence Tarantino’s films are known for. He doesn’t stray away from showing you the grisly details when you need to see them. And it’s very much a film for the educated. The more you have a general knowledge of Germany, and much of Europe pre and during World War II, the more you’re going to enjoy this film. But you don’t need to have a degree in 20th century European History to understand what’s going on. You just need to know A, the war happened, B, a lot of Jews were being killed, and C, Hitler was a very, very bad man.

Inglourious Basterds revolves around a fictitious plot to kill Hitler and end World War II. The title characters, the “Basterds” are a rag tag group of American Jews captained by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), himself is not a Jew, who are dropped into occupied France in 1940 to cause a ruckus, commit psychological warfare, and “kill some nazis.” And they are very good at what they do. However, the Basterd’s aren’t the only Jew’s gunning for Hitler.

The film itself is split into five chapters. In the first chapter we meet, in a round about way, the other Jew gunning for Hitler, Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), and witness the event that will change her life forever, ultimately giving her reason to take it upon herself to seize the opportunity to strike down the Third Reich in one fell swoop.

The first chapter also introduces us to Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a German SS Colonel nicknamed “The Jew Hunter,” and the main villain in the film. Tarantino always makes his key villains EXTREMELY interesting, and Landa is no different. In my opinion, he is very much the most interesting character in the film, and I thought Waltz hit it out of the park. I’d go on record saying that without Landa’s performance, this movie would have fallen flat.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story because I think watching it play out is half the fun of this film. You have a general idea of what’s going to happen in each chapter, but you never really feel like you know what’s going to happen with each beat of the film. Tarantino let’s each chapter play out at it’s own pace, sometimes at a gruelingly slow speed, paying no attention to the “in late, out early” adage preached and mimicked by so many writers (including yours truly) and directors today. Then again, Tarantino has never adhered to this method, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to me. However, I did hear a few people I was sitting around asks when scenes were going to get to the point.

And if there is one “flaw” with this movie, is that it’s a bit too long. While some chapters take forever to get going, others suck you in immediately. And it’s this unevenness that makes the film seem like it’s plodding on occasion. Movies don’t represent real reality. They represent a stylized and hyper efficient reality where everyone says what they’re supposed to, and events are impeccably and perfectly timed, falling just where they need to be to move things along at a swift pace. Real life moves around more like a jellyfish. It’s got a general direction, but more often than not it’s just along for the ride, going where the currents take it. That’s how a lot of the chapters in Inglorious Basterds play out. And it’s very much Tarantino forcing the audience to sit through something they will appreciate in the end.

Language plays an immensely important role in this film. Many twists and turns revolve around language, various characters ability to speak them, and the proper cultural fluency that goes along with them. It’s because language plays such an important role, and acts as several major plot points, that Tarantino paced the chapters the way he did. Events need to build up properly, and for them to work they can’t be rushed. As unfortunate as this is for the audience on some occasions, it’s a unique method that few other directors would be allowed to get away with. Tarantino makes you wait for the payoff, and in doing so reminds you that he’s allowing you to see the film he wanted to make. Almost as if worrying about an audience at all is a side effect of him choosing the medium of film to tell this story.

And it’s this control, this careful plotting, and pace, that is the wink, wink, nod, nod of Tarantino. Inglourious Basterds could have been filmed by any other director, or written by any other writer, and ended the same way, and probably done pretty well at the box office. But Tarantino knows that his audiences are going to see this film very much because he’s the one who’s making it. He knows the audience is very familiar with the Tarantino brand of storytelling, and trust what comes along with that. And in doing so, he uses that trust the audience has in him to educate them on a slightly different method of filming a scene, setting up a story, and delivering the payoff at the end.

Inglourious Basterds is both, in my opinion, the most mainstream Hollywood movie Tarantino’s done, and the least mainstream Hollywood movie he’s done. It’s polished, well produced, visually pleasing, well acted, and has a big budget feel to it. But at the same time it’s unusually paced, self indulgent, stylistically unique, and strangely structured. Tarantino delivers a film that is very much Tarantino, in a wrapper that is very much anyone else in Hollywood.

Is this going to win Best Picture? No. Is it the best movie Tarantino’s has made to date? I don’t think so. But, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, and look forward to eventually buying it on Blu-Ray and watching it many, many more times.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Until next time, keep writing!
-Steve

[Edit: While I don’t think this will get any nominations for Best Picture, I would not be surprised to see Christoph Waltz get Golden Globe or Oscar nominations.]

[Update: According to the Wikipedia article on the movie Avatar, a trailer was supposed to be shown before Inglourious Basterds. The Georgia Cinema Company theater that I was at showed no such trailer.]

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