Inglourious Basterds (9/10)

Aldo Raine

Nearly every camera shot and line of dialog in this movie is pure Tarantino – and yet, it’s probably one of the most mature and airtight films he’s ever directed, a masterwork (not a masterpiece) that weaves all the juicy dialog, larger-than-life characters, and gleeful violence that we’ve come to expect and love from this movie-loving director with a few subtle moral themes and winks to the audiece about violence at the movies and the nature of our response to it.

Don’t read into his message too much, though – Inglourious Basterds is, first and foremost, a Tarantino-ization of history, so he’s not going to sit down and give you a tidy lesson so much as make you laugh yourself silly and cringe with glee at the expected blood spatters and shoot-outs executed with salivating cinematic style.  QT’s film is set smack dab in the middle of Nazi-era WWII Germany (with, thankfully, delicious attention paid to the accents and languages – most of the movie is in subtitles), as the Nazi party is terrorized by the Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt in a screen-chewin Nazi-hatin’ performance on par with his role in Burn After Reading entertainment-wise) led Inglourious Basterds, a team of American Jews doin’ one thing, and one thing only: killin Nazis.

Actually, the Basterds (a misspelling QT has said he will never explain), occupy about a third of the movie – the rest is devoted to a young Jewish lady named Shoshanna – in hiding as a Frenchwoman who owns a theatre, and a plot to use the premiere of a prestigious film to assassinate most of the Nazi party leaders at once (with the help of the Basterds of course). Tarantino’s plot weaving skills are on full display here, and they’re rather impressive – the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat most of the time and is rooted in unpredictability despite its rather conventional assassination plotline. Simply the dialog between the characters is fabulous, but if the acting hadn’t matched the script pitch-perfect, extended scenes of slow dramatic buildup and searing climaxes would have been boring and slow – thankfully this is not the case.

As Tarantino has matured as a filmmaker he’s become increasingly good at pulling performances from his actors that nearly shimmer with a riveting other-reality, but in this film he’s outdone himself and created some of his most memorable characters and suspenseful scenes yet, with even the smallest roles clicking perfectly into place.  Two lead performances in particular stand out, one of them Christoph Waltz as Colonel Landa – a member of the SS nicknamed “The Jew Hunter.”

Landa

He’s an instantly iconic villain, an idiosyncratic, ruthlessly calculating and egotistical maniac with a dangerous amount of patience.  Waltz relishes the role by pulling back and playing him as dangerously friendly (he also speaks four different languages in the movie, all seamlessly – a best supporting actor nomination is a must) with cruel cunning barely visible beneath his calm, affable exterior.  The opening scene alone (wherein he and an unassuming French farmer talk for nigh-on twenty tension-laden minutes) is worth the price of admission alone.

And then, there’s Eli Roth as “The Bear Jew”, a member of the Basterds known for beating his victims to death with a baseball bat.  Tarantino introduced Eli Roth to the world when he produced Roth’s “Hostel,” a film quickly written off as cheap torture porn taken to absurd levels. That Roth plays one of the more sadistic members in an already sadistic group is no coincidence, and it’s key to why Tarantino’s latest can’t just be written off as mindless bloody revisionist history.

Though IB is violent, it’s interesting to note that the violence isn’t half as emphasized as were Kill Bill, Death Proof, or for that matter, Pulp Fiction.  Actual scalping is given one introductory shot and only a few scattered shots here and there, and except for one all-important death shoot-out, many of the spurts of violence take place in enclosed darkened spaces where stuff happens so quick you don’t really see what’s going on.  When a moment of violence is focused on, it’s to signify something else (such as when a flourish of blood erupts from a character’s body to create an almost poetic-like image of a flower’s pollen exploding from its burst petals), something meaningful and lasting.  The climactic scene of the movie finds Nazis clapping away at a movie which depicts endless, awful violence –and at the midnight screening that I attended, scenes with awful violence were met with applause and cheers.  There’s no way Tarantino would be ignorant of this kind of response.

The question still remains what exactly this means, though.  Inglourious Basterds is a terrific film that is among Tarantino’s top 3 and certainly the most entertaining and well-made film to come out this summer.  The plot is seamless, the dialog enthralling, the characters memorable and the heroes endearing.  Is there a “message” hidden in this film at all, though?  I mean, what does it MEAN, right? Should we even bother to look for one in a Tarantino movie?  You can certainly bet that he’s not judging his audience for applauding at violence (that’s Michael Haneke’s job), but it could be that he’s evolving as a filmmaker and IB, among other things, is also an experiment in blurring the line between movies and audience’s response to them.  Similarities between the Basterds and the Nazis are clear throughout the film, and in a couple of instances some innocent men are even shot dead by people who are supposed to be “the good guys.” In all likelihood, Tarantino is just playing around, dancing with movie conventions in one scene and slaughtering them to his own end in the next. Whatever the case, it’s well-made, damn fine entertainment.  And Quentin Tarantino knows it.

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One Response to “Inglourious Basterds (9/10)”

  1. i like war movies and inglourious basterds is one of the movies that i really love *’*

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