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Inglourious Basterds (2009) Print E-mail
Friday, 21 August 2009
ImageHow does he do it? How does Quentin Tarantino continually and consistently create film after exhilarating film, each with its own unique style, but a voice that is undeniably Tarantino's? And how is it that he can make a single scene with two characters talking be so absolutely riveting? What is the secret? If I knew, I wouldn't be writing this review. I'd be busy getting my own film career off the ground. But I don't, so here we are. And while I may not know what makes Tarantino tick, he sure does, and he brings all of his considerable talents to bear with the thrilling and unforgettable Inglourious Basterds.

Despite sharing a title (but not the spelling) with an obscure 1978 Italian war film, Inglourious Basterds is not a remake. It follows Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) as he and his small team of Jewish-American soldiers wreak havoc behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France. Raine's team, the Basterds, has demoralized the occupying force so much that Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) makes a new propaganda film designed to lift the spirits of all Germans. The film's star, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) lusts after a cinema owner (Melanie Laurent), not realizing that she is in fact an escaped Jew living under a false identity. Meanwhile, Nazi Col. Hans Landa (Christophe Waltz) searches for Raine and his Basterds. Inglourious Basterds is cut into several chapters, much like Kill Bill, although each chapter does follow a chronological progression. Each segment shows the audience a different side of the various factions that litter the film. There's Raine and his Basterds, of course. Despite occupying the film's title, the group is seen far less than one might expect. Instead, a large portion of the movie centers around Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) and Col. Landa. And this is certainly not a bad thing. Laurent is both a beauty and a talent. She convincingly carries all of her scenes with aplomb. Christophe Waltz is an absolute pleasure to watch as Landa. Whether speaking French, German, Italian, or English (where he sounds uncannily like famed German director Werner Herzog), Waltz steals the show. He may be the best fit for Tarantino's dialogue that I have ever seen.

And speaking of dialogue, prepare for a lot of it. Most of the film features people talking around tables. It's a credit to Tarantino's visual mind and filmmaking prowess that this never becomes boring. In fact, as each encounter unfolds, they become ever more riveting, with suspense usually reserved for far more active fare. Tarantino turns each exchange into a duel, with things said and unsaid lying heavy in the air. In many ways, the film feels more like a spaghetti western than a WWII flick, and Tarantino has said in interviews that this was his intention from the start. And it's not difficult to see the influences. The opening is pure Sergio Leone, for example. But, as he manages to do time and again, Tarantino synthesizes his influences and adds his own voice to the mix, creating something unique and original out of used parts.

I find it interesting that Tarantino uses a film premiere as the central plot point of the film. While many of Tarantino's characters have a solid knowledge of pop culture, and one even worked in the film industry itself (Stuntman Mike from Death Proof), this is the most film-centric movie of Tarantino's career. There's an entire scene dedicated to a discussion of German cinema, and the climax of the film takes place in a French movie theater. The purpose of the film is to provide catharsis to Germans during wartime, and Tarantino offers the audience a similar catharsis, literally using film to solve the movie's central problem. It's an interesting touch that adds layers to what might otherwise be a big budget exploitation film.

For those who saw the ads and simply want to see some gruesome Nazi killings, don't be alarmed. They're in here. Nazis get scalped, shot, branded, beaten, and tortured. The action is a long time in coming, but once it does, it's loud and gory and ecstatic. But it's contrasted by some of Tarantino's most lyrical filmmaking to date. In particular, a stunning sequence where Shoshanna prepares for her big night while David Bowie's dramatic "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" plays on the soundtrack (Tarantino finding a more powerful use for the track than the movie from which it was pulled) is perhaps the most affecting and beautiful work Tarantino has ever done. Whether you're looking for high art, lowbrow gore, sly humor, the new Tarantino movie, or just a good time at a theater, Inglourious Basterds is it. I don't know how you do it, Quentin, but for the love of cinema, please keep it up.

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