Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

That's A Bingo!

"The German will be sickened by us, the German will talk about us, and the German will fear us."

- Allow Quentin Tarantino to take you on a shocking and bizarre ensemble revisionist history lesson in 1944 France

Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) is good at his job: he finds people. Landa is specifically good at finding Jews - hence is nickname "The Jew Hunter." Cinema owner Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) is one specific Jew who does not want to be found and has adopted a pseudonym to mask her Jewish heritage and past. When the Nazis do not find Shosanna, fate leads them to her as one shining Nazi star Frederick Zoller takes an interest in her and persuades Joseph Goebbels to host the premier of the last Nazi propaganda film at Shosanna's theatre. One group of Jews on the other hand are particularly hard to find - but as things would have it, they usually find you. A group of American Jewish soldiers form this deadly team, termed "The Basterds" and led by Aldo "the Apache" Raine (Brad Pitt), whose sole mission is to kill Nazis (commanded further by Raine to scalp their victims). These three sets of characters and stories make up Quentin Tarantino's 2009 war film Inglourious Bastards, weaving around each other until being brought together in an odd but compelling fashion that only Tarantino can deliver.

One usually knows what they are going to get with most Quentin Tarantino films: violence, smart but quirky dialogue, a lot of foul language, and homages a-plenty to Tarantino's favorite films. While absolutely incorporating these aspects, Tarantino does not stop there and goes an extra mile with Inglourious Basterds. For the first time ever while watching a Quentin Tarantino film, I got the impression that Tarantino was trying to tell us something THROUGH the violence he presents on-screen. The violence is different when, say, Eli Roth and Omar Doom let the bullets fly over a crowd of Nazis in Inglourious Basterds as opposed to, say, Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta letting the bullets fly on the crooks in the run-down apartment in Pulp Fiction (1994). Tarantino makes a comment on hate and violence through the over-the-top violence displayed in Inglourious Basterds. The violence that Tarantino creates is not so much funny or "revenge porn"-like as it is an interesting way to get his point across. Make sure to take notice of who exactly hates who in the film. The film shows Nazis hating Jews, the American Jews hating Nazis, the Germans hating the French, the French hating the Germans, and so on and so forth. If anything, the violence that Tarantino shows highlights how the hate that the Nazis have for the Jews and the hate that the Americans' have for the Nazis, etc. is all bad and all-too similar.

Tarantino has more of a message to get across in Inglourious Basterds than any of his previous films but other aspects of the film enable the viewer to know that they are certainly watching a Quentin Tarantino film. This has both bad and good consequences.

The bad consequences stem from Tarantino's desperation to show everyone who his film influences are. Tarantino sacrifices the nice pacing of the film with each and every drawn-out dramatic close-up and swelling spaghetti western-like score. A scene will be tense and flowing nicely but then Tarantino will try to introduce a new character with a long close-up and western music and your throat becomes choked up with the phrase "GET IT OVER WITH ALREADY!" Also, Tarantino cannot help himself but make an homage to everything he can possibly think of that relates to the film - ranging from but not limited to: spaghetti westerns (specifically The Good The Bad And The Ugly (1966)), British war films, James Bond films, Cinderella and Romeo & Juliet.

Of course, Inglourious Basterds is largely a Quentin Tarantino success, the interesting delivery of Tarantino's message is complimented by Tarantino's amazing command over the balance and effectiveness of tension and humor as well as the large amount of tremendous work handed in by the cast.

The cast is not flawless: Daniel Brühl is incredibly annoying as Frederick Zoller and Eli Roth's performance of "The Jew Bear" is a pretty bad imitation of a late 1970's-era Elliot Gould on steroids. But most of the cast is amazing: Mélanie Laurent's ice-plated vulnerability as Shosanna, Michael Fassbender's very Bond-like take on British agent Archie Hicox, Diane Kruger's violently graceful turn as Bridget von Hammersmark, Mike Myers' chameleon-like performance of British General Ed Fenech, and Denis Menochet's powerful showing as Perrier LaPadite among others. Brad Pitt also could not be better as Aldo Raine, he is absolutely hilarious but he also sells the "ruthless vigilante" part of the character very well. Christoph Waltz, however, steals every scene as Hans Landa, a brilliant and cunning detective whose talents have been put to use by the Nazi state to specifically sniff out Jews. Waltz brings presence, quiet evil, oily charm, an unbelievable amount of layering, and a command of four different languages to the role - Waltz's Landa is the highlight of the fantastic and large cast of characters.

All of the rumor and hype surrounding Inglourious Basterds made it seem like I was getting myself into a quirky comedy with over-the-top violence and especially fictional history. While the film does play around with history like a two-year-old with a lump of Play-Doh (all to a purpose, of course) I did not see a full-out Quentin Tarantino comedy in Inglourious Basterds. Oh yeah, the film has a lot of funny parts - Aldo Raine's idea of what speaking Italian sounds like is especially hilarious - but for the most part, I found Inglourious Basterds to be less of a comedy and more of a clever WWII-style espionage thriller with many things to think about and appreciate.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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