REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds

24 08 2009

Quentin Tarantino has made movies the way he wants for nearly two decades now, and that is precisely what has made him one of the most beloved and distinguished directors in recent memory.  His latest outing, “Inglourious Basterds,” has been a pet project for over ten years.  It is Tarantino at the top of his game: gruesomely violent, side-splittingly hilarious, and outrageous fun.  It brings the high-energy approach that Tarantino takes to his classics set in the present day and applies it to World War II.  The result is a testosterone-pumping farce with a climax that will get you up out of your seats, screaming and applauding.

The movie revolves around Lt. Aldo Raine, played to hysterical brilliance by Brad Pitt, and his team of “Basterds,” comprised of Jewish-American soldiers on a mission to brutally massacre the Nazi soldiers in France out of nothing but cold vengeance.  But Tarantino’s story consists of multiple layers that contribute to his five-part harmony.  Perhaps the most chilling is the loquacious Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), better known among the French as “The Jew Hunter.”  Landa is always one step ahead of the game, and every scene in which he appears brings you to the edge of your seat.  He radiates a very calm exterior, but on the inside, he seems to be a ticking time bomb.  This aspect lends an aura of suspense to his character as we eagerly await him to just explode with anger.

The story also follows Shoshanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), the lone survivor of the Nazis massacre of her family who then becomes motivated to avenge their deaths.  She finds the perfect opportunity when German war hero turned Nazi propaganda movie star Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) becomes smitten with her.  He wants to host hundreds of high-ranking Nazis for the premiere of his movie at the theater that she owns.  Her plan is to torch the theater.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Shoshanna, the British are organizing a plot to blow up the theater along with the Basterds and a German movie star gone spy named Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger).  The collision of the story lines results in a final act that will not soon be forgotten.

The cast is all phenomenal, but I cannot laud Christoph Waltz enough.  The switches between three languages he speaks in the movie are flawless.  He makes Landa very eerie, nearing the level of Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men,” but he is also quite likeable and somewhat charming despite the atrocious deeds he commits.  He easily outshines Brad Pitt, whose role was much more limited than I had imagined.  But he makes the best of the little time he has, deftly playing a hardened killer yet also putting a strong emphasis on Aldo’s eccentricities and darkly comedic side.  Other strong turns from the ensemble include Mélanie Laurent as Shoshanna, who delivers the most poignant performance, and Eli Roth as a Basterd affectionately known as “The Bear Jew,” whose facial expressions manage to make a smile look menacing.

Tarantino has made a name for himself on his quirky style, usually bringing a B-movie approach to a high-quality film.  Most critics have characterized his works mainly by the profane language, long stretches of realistic dialogue, and very graphic violence that they contain.  He always plays to his strengths, but more importantly, he makes the movies that he wants to see.  “Inglourious Basterds” is the movie that the 12-year-old inside Tarantino has wanted to make for decades, and the euphoria that he gets from watching Nazis be bloodily scalped is conveyed to the audience.  With the movie, he manages to tap into the kid inside you who loves watching gory violence and adds a dimension of ridiculous humor.  It’s not your regular war movie; it is him finding pleasure where others find gloom.

I think Tarantino is convinced that “Inglourious Basterds” is his masterpiece, but I do not feel the same based on what I have seen of his canon.  For many of the same reasons that his previous movies have worked, this one falls just short.  The long sequences of dialogue, which were pitch-perfect in “Pulp Fiction,” aren’t nearly as effective or engrossing.  They often linger on for much too long in the middle of the film, moving  at a sluggish pace.  I think Tarantino got a little cocky and thought that his knack for dialogue would carry over perfectly into subtitles, and it really doesn’t.  The script also lacks another defining feature of his work, pop culture references.  They are a little hard to include in a movie inside a definite time frame but were often crucial to making his movies flow.  I also wish that he had also utilized a non-linear plot like the majority of his other features because it often keeps the audience alert and it adds an aura of unpredictability.  But the bloodshed is executed nearly impeccably, leading to the most memorable and exciting climax I have ever witnessed on film.  Tarantino’s most recent effort is not my favorite of his films, but it triumphs in awakening the child lying dormant somewhere inside of us.  A- / 3halfstars



2 responses

11 11 2009

“Inglourious Basterds” left me speechless except for one question: Where has Christoph Waltz been all my life? This guy deserves an Oscar nomination for what he did with Col. Hans Landa — he was THAT GOOD.

The film as a whole is certainly one of the best I’ve seen this year. Tarantino is ambitious and perhaps he aims too high, but there are so many great things about this movie that they overshadow the flaws in character development.

11 11 2009

Waltz seems to be the one person in this category that people can agree is assured a nomination. He won the highest prize for acting at Cannes; I wouldn’t be surprised if he won at the Oscars too.

But for a performance that is my current favorite in the Best Supporting Actor race, check out Alfred Molina in “An Education.” My review is coming up soon, but I have a whole lot of work this week and I am going to see “Precious” tonight for the opening night of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival.

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