MOVIE: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

ingbasterdsOne of the things I love about Quentin Tarantino movies is that there’s absolutely no mistaking them for anything else.  If I hadn’t known Inglourious Basterds was a QT film going in, I would’ve called it immediately the moment the film opened with a classic WWII scene paired with an oddball combination of Debussy’s Claire de Lune and the whistles and clangs of spaghetti Western music.  Throw into that mix an homage to just about every film ever made coupled with a story that is both completely unique and brilliantly literary, and what you have is quintessential Tarantino.

This movie opens with two separate stories that, in typical QT style, collide together in the final act like hydrogen nuclei in a fusion bomb.  The first story is about a young Jewish woman, Shoshanna, whose entire family is killed right in front by infamous the infamous “Jew Hunter,”  Nazi Col. Hans Landa (played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz).  For reasons that didn’t make a lot of sense — I’m guessing it’s as simple, and as complicated, as the fact he’s a  sick, crazy bastard — Landa lets Shoshanna escape.  We catch up to her a few years later, where she’s living in Paris under an assumed name, running a movie theater.  A young Nazi soldier, a war hero and the star of the latest Goebbels smash hit, Stolz der Nation (A Nation’s Pride), tries to befriend her.  But when he manages to get the big movie premiere switched to her theater, Shoshanna makes plans for more than just a simple screening.  Revenge, she decides, is a dish best served piping-frakkin’ hot.

The second story in the film is about the Inglourious Basterds themselves.  The Basterds are a group of undercover American soldiers, mostly Jews, who are dropped into France with the sole purpose of “killin’ Nat-zis.”    Think “The Dirty Dozen,” except completely sociopathic.  Led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, rocking a thoroughly embedded Southern accent), each of the Basterds has been assigned the task of taking 100 Nazi scalps apiece.  After taking out dozens and dozens of German soldiers, and not with mercy (to put it mildly), the group has become infamous amongst the German Army.  Everyone fears the Basterds, and the stories of them, and specifically of their cruelest member, “The Bear Jew” (the wild-eyebrowed Eli Roth), quickly begin to rival folklore about the bogeyman.

The stories converge at the end, when each set of characters initiates a separate, complicated plan to destroy the movie theater and, in so doing, kill Hitler and end the war.  Whether or not either plan succeeds is something I’ll leave for you to discover.

Instead, allow me to say a few things about a some of the actors in this film.  First things first, if Christoph Waltz doesn’t win every Best Actor award from the Oscars to the Razzies, he was completely robbed.  His character, Nazi Col. Hans Landa, is, hands-down, the most thoroughly disturbing Tarantino villain since Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, and for the exact same reasons.  The most bad-ass of any character in a  Tarantino film is always the one the exudes the most calm, and Landa is about as calm as they get.  Had he, at any point, put on the radio and started dancing around a chair singing oldies songs, or begun quoting from Ezekiel 25:17, it would’ve merely been the icing on the holy-mary-mother-of-god terror cake.

And then there’s Brad Pitt, the leader of the Basterds, who continues to surprise me every time I see him of late and, with this film, has finally  established himself in my brain as a goddamn genius as well as a pretty face.   I keep thinking Legends of the Fall, and he keeps sweeping the leg, so to speak.  When we walked out of the movie theater after seeing this film, it occurred to me I couldn’t think of a popular actor in Hollywood right now who was more versatile and talented than Brad Pitt.  And in thinking about it some more since, I’ve still got nuthin’.  Man, I hate it when geniuses are also ridiculously gorgeous.  It’s like a boot to the shins.

Melanie Laurant, who played Shoshanna, was a new one for me, and I also found her a complete revelation.   I thought her acting was brilliant, and loved even more the way Tarantino shot her, with close-ups on her eyes, her lips, her legs making her look like a 70’s psychological thriller siren, when the reality went so incredibly much deeper.  More, more, more play on genre, which is Tarantino’s specialty and one of the primary reasons I think his films get better with repeated viewings than worse.

As for Eli Roth, whose work as a horror director I have long admired, his acting was a bit over-eager and clumsy from where I was sitting, though others I’ve talked to about this movie didn’t notice anything awry.  That might be because I knew who he was, and so I was paying more attention to him than they were.  But in any case,  it hardly mattered, and besides, I’ll forgive him for all of it if his next project is turning his fake Tarantino Grindhouse trailer (Thanksgiving) into an actual film.

And now, to do something Tarantino himself likes to do in his films, I want to end this review by coming full circle back to the way I started it, and that’s with some talk about the Tarantino style.  This movie does a lot of things Tarantino frequently does — it interrupts the story with asides, it pauses the film to slap on a bold character title to let us know who’s who, it throws music together from almost every genre without care for anachronism, it plays with camerawork —  in fact, it plays with just about everything.  Its characters are ridiculously larger-than-life, its women ridiculously more beautiful than life, and its violence so graphic it frequently crosses the border into camp (note to the squeamish, you may want to avert thine eyes during any and all scalping scenes).  I love all those things in Tarantino films.  I love that Tarantino films are completely unmistakable.

THAT SAID, while it always seems to work out brilliantly, including here, I will say I think there’s a point at which Tarantino is going to cross the line from brilliance to overdone predictability, and while I know a gazillion people (or, possibly, EVERYONE) is going to disagree with me on this, I think he’s reached that point.  If his next movie features the same bag of tricks, regardless of the quality of the story, I’m going to sigh with a little impatience even while I lap it all up hungrily.  Go ahead, argue with me.  I’ll listen.  But I’m still right.   Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins.  Just you wait.

And the rest of you, go see this movie, because it’s completely insane and absolutely brilliant.  FIN.

[Prequeue me at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Defies classification, really, but let’s go with War.  WAR.
Cast:  Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Mike Myers (no, really!)

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6 Responses to “MOVIE: Inglourious Basterds (2009)”

  1. Liz Says:

    Okay, I both agree and disagree with you! (?) I thought QT had gone over the top with “Kill Bill I” – I couldn’t decide whether I was disturbed by the violence, or just thought it was stupid. Maybe that’s exactly the reaction he was going for, in which case, he succeeded brilliantly. What he didn’t succeed in doing is inducing me to see “Kill Bill II.” I’m afraid I’m done with QT (gasp!). BTW, did he direct “Pulp Fiction?” Because that one annoyed me, also … although I was very taken with an early work of his that had to do with a Mexican woman whose job was cleaning up murder sites, and who was fascinated by death. A Baldwin (non-Alec) was in it – William? Now I have to go to IMDb to look it up – ‘bye.

  2. Liz Says:

    It WAS William Baldwin! And the movie was called “Curdled” – and QT was one of the writers, but not the director. I actually might rent “Inglorious Basterds,” because it does sound interesting, and I, too, am always surprised by Brad Pitt.

  3. megwood Says:

    Oh, I couldn’t disagree more strongly about Pulp Fiction — I think that’s one of the most brilliant films I’ve ever seen. I also really loved both Kill Bill installments. Definitely give Ing Bast a rental, Liz. I think you’ll be surprised (though it is VERY violent, just a heads-up).

    I haven’t seen Curdled — hadn’t even heard of it! Will give that one a rental STAT.

  4. megwood Says:

    A friend just sent me this: http://www.theonion.com/content/news/next_tarantino_movie_an_homage_to

    Hilarious!!

  5. Trip Says:

    I’m compelled to throw in props to Michael Fassbender for doing such a great job channelling David Niven and George Sanders with his tally-ho, cheerio and well-met German film critic-slash-British commando spy.

    I wanted his scenes to keep on going – he’s that compelling to watch. His performance as Bobby Sands in Hunger was outstanding. Mike Myers as the veddy-English general was fun, too. Not exactly someone you’d expect to see in a Tarantino flick, huh?

    I was disappointed by the ending, though. I was expecting Shoshanna’s revenge to target one key character specifically, so her character’s arc was a bit of a letdown for me. The German war hero boyfriend thing got on my nerves after a while, too. I liked the Basterds as Italian film crew piece, though, quite amusing.

    This one was a bit too long and disjointed for me to rank it above Kill Bill, and certainly not above Pulp Fiction.

    Waltz has the Best Supporting Oscar in the bag!

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