Sunday, September 20, 2009

Inglourious Basterds Review

Inglourious Basterds:
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Released in 2009

Quentin Tarantino makes great movies. It is a simple fact. There is no denying the draw and appeal of classics such as Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, or perhaps the mad violence that made the Kill Bill series an action classic. It just so happens that Inglourious Basterds is another great film by Tarantino. So good, in fact, it ranks up there with his best, easily. After leaving the theater, I was overwhelmed with love for this movie. It is definitely my favorite movie of the summer and will be hard to top for the rest of the year.

The film starts out with a scene that strongly parallels the opener to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Tarantino's professed favorite movie. Hans Landa, played by a impossibly good Christoph Waltz, is a Nazi assigned with the task of rounding up the Jews in France, or just exterminating them. He meets with a French farmer,
Perrier LaPadite (in an excellent, too short appearance by Denis Menochet) to ask him if he is hiding any Jewish people in his house. The conversation is innocent enough; he compliments LaPadite of his beautiful daughters and requests a drink, milk in this case. They engage in small talk for a few minutes and the scene documents every moment. The suspense is present throughout as Landa uses his menacing wit to coax information out of the farmer. It eventually draws to a thunderous, frightening close as Landa gets his way. This opening scene is almost identical in a sense to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly when The Bad confronts a farmer, pestering him for information. Drawing from one of the greatest movies of all time is certainly a fine thing to do (Tarantino borrowed elements from the film before such as the Mexican Standoff which makes an appearance in this film as well). This scene starts the movie off well and gives the Jewish escapee, Shoshanna Dreyfus, a reason for vengeance.

Brad Pitt and his crew are given a introduction as "The Basterds" next, a group of Jewish-Americans with one mission only: "Killin' Nazis." According to Aldo Raine (Pitt), the "business is boomin'" and the whole German army is starting to fear this ragtag group of violent figures. Pitt is excellent in his Nazi-hating, Southern American role and is always provides a laugh throughout the movie. Aldo's gang

also includes "The Bear Jew," played by a insane yet amusing Eli Roth, Hugo Stiglitz, a Nazi killing machine who Til Schweiger fulfills the role for, and Smithson Utivich, played by BJ Novak, or "Ryan" from The Office. The whole crew is given a comical view, despite their horrible war crimes, and each member is given a distinct, interesting personality.

There is also a separate agenda for Shoshanna, the Jewish girl whose family was terrorized early on by Landa. Her role is occupied by another relative unknown to American cinema, Melanie Laurent. She acts with cold grace, turning down the advances made on her by the handsome, nagging hero soldier, Frederick Zoller, played by Daniel Bruhl. She owns a cinema in Paris, and Zoller, trying to flatter her, wants to premiere the movie based off his accomplishments at her venue. This quickly sets up a situation where she can get back at the scum that murdered her family and her vengeful character really steals the show in many of her scenes.

Meanwhile, there is a separate plan to take down the Third Reich by the Basterds themselves, with an almost unrecognizable Mike Myers as the courier. A bunch of other great roles are shown throughout, including a British film critic turned spy played by Michael Fassbender and a large part played by Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark, a famous actress turned spy for the Allies. Everyone here adds a ton of personality to their characters and, as a result, the world feels fresh and alive. There has not been such a stellar lineup of actors, known and unknown, in awhile.

As many Quentin Tarantino movies can boast to, Inglourious Basterds has style. Pure, smooth style. Starting with the words "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France," the film does not take itself seriously and, thus, can have a lot of fun with its setting. The props and settings are all historically accurate but the presentation of the movie is anything but. When introducing Hugo Stiglitz, a burst of rock guitar rings with huge, screen-filling, yellow font of his name. A cool narration by Samuel L. Jackson ensues with a flashback, and the action returns to the scene as if nothing happened. Only Tarantino can pull off something like that. In addition, the soundtrack is stellar as well, mixing Ennio Morricone-style epics with 70s funk and David Bowie. The music is so far from the setting that each time it plays, you can't help but laugh at the some of the ridiculousness at hand. Regardless, the soundtrack still managed to fit perfectly with the action, giving the movie its own identity.

Much praise has already been given to Christoph Waltz for his impeccable portrayal of mirth mixed with malice, but I must add to it. Every scene of his is his own, and his blend of evil and humor is unlike anything I have seen before. When he finds out crucial information about Operation Kino (the plan to kill high-ranking Nazi officials), he shouts "That's a bingo!!" in a way that will make anyone laugh and cringe simultaneously. His "chat" with Shoshanna at a Nazi party is suspenseful and nerve-wracking, even when he has nothing much to say at all. He will surely receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance and he deserves to win it. The psychotic villain genre has been played by many great actors recently, such as Heath Ledger and Jackie Earle-Haley, and now Christoph Waltz can deservedly sit among them. He draws attention from every audience member and won't let go until his character is completely absent from the screen. In summary, he is fantastic.

The violence in this film has also gained some publicity but it is no more than a typical 21st century Tarantino film. There are several scenes of scalping and beatings but they are usually not given a serious tone, but instead a comical one. Shootouts are brief but intense; a shootout in the bar must have had at least 20 shots go by in less than 10 seconds. The final, climactic scene is literally explosive and a pleasure to watch, even despite its grossly disfigured body parts. Seeing history being rewritten, Tarantino-style, had me laughing hard for its approximate three minute duration.

The writing overall is top-notch, with obviously Quentin at the helm. While some may say they drag on too long, I found about every line of dialogue interesting due to the talented actors, and usually suspense is drawn from even the most inane of occurrences such as a waiter serving whipped cream. Once again, Christoph Waltz steals every one of his scenes and takes Tarantino's work and elevates it farther than even the director predicted. The screenplay was reportedly ten years in the making, going through several rewrites, and, while there have certainly been better scripts written in shorter amounts of time, Tarantino did not put that time to waste because the effort and proofreading show. The film's steady, patient approach throughout also suggest one thing and one thing only: Quentin Tarantino is the man and he knows it. He does not need anyone to ask him to cut with zooming in on someone pouring milk because it HAS to be there, at least in his mind. At a solid two and a half hours long, Inglourious Basterds takes its time but still manages to make all of it interesting, even when conversations approach the twenty minute mark or more. Only a man like Quentin can pull that off.

In the end, Inglourious Basterds is a fantastic film. Some may end up not liking it because of its length, gratuity or blend of different genres but they probably don't like Tarantino's style in the first place. This movie will be remembered by me and many others down the road as a mad work of art. The film's final words are, said by Pitt's Aldo Raine, "I think this just might be my masterpiece" as he stares at a swastika-scarred scalp he created. We all know that it is truly Tarantino behind the camera saying that, and he truly is right.

Final Verdict: 5 Stars out of 5

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