A Review of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS:
I walked into Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds expecting non-stop Basterd-style Nazi killing, over the top violence and borderline kitsch. Sure, there’s some of that, and an anachronistic use of a David Bowie song among other minor albeit forgivable annoyances, but what struck me most was that this was not just a story of Basterd scalping maniacs. This was also a story of a young Jewish woman named Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) hiding out in Paris under the guise of a cinema operator and her elaborate revenge plot against the bastard SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) who murdered her family. This is a story of a ballsy double agent parading as a German movie star (Diane Kruger) who risks everything for an operation to assassinate Hitler. And most memorably, and cyclically, this is the story of that ruthless SS Colonel Hans Landa and his inevitable comeuppance after he arrogantly and erroneously plays everyone as if he were the smartest man in the room. In fact, the whole movie hangs on his story arc. From the moment at the end of the opening prologue where Shosanna barely escapes from his overreaching grasp, we wait…ever so patiently…to see…in that final scene…Hanz receive his comeuppance. And Tarantino, in his signature chapter-stop style weaves in all of these stories and others and uses the Basterds (essentially as a McGuffin) as the comic relief.
By all measures, this is Tarantino’s best-looking film. Gone is that obsession with low-budget 1970’s style pastiche that often resulted in grainy photography and shoddy editing in earlier films, and instead, awash in the refined beauty of Nazi occupied France, is an impeccable production design, classy costuming and excellent cinematography from Robert Richardson. There is also an infectious music score that eclectically combines themes from B-level Westerns, classical music and German marches that is utilized perfectly to add pizzazz to scenes or ratchet up the tension.
The film benefits from uniformly fine performances. Make no mistake, Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Basterd Numero Uno Lt. Aldo Raine, with all his folksy bad-ass Smoky Mountain wisdom, is the comedic performance of the year. What makes it even more astounding is that it is delivered in what is an otherwise surprisingly serious film. Meanwhile, Tarantino’s ladies are as beautiful as they are devastating, with Diane Kruger sarcastically game and Melanie Laurent a cauldron of emotions waiting to erupt underneath a demure French veneer. Lastly, Christoph Waltz leaves a villainous impression as Hans Landa, and it’s easy to see him a lock for a Supporting Actor nod come Oscar time.
But of course there is all that waiting for the payoff, which comes, but not until after some totally unexpected turns that result from a basis in a demented little boy’s fractured fantasy version of WWII instead of fact. There are, however, nods to the propaganda from both sides spreading word of atrocities and “cameos” by an array of real-life “characters” from Hugo Stiglitz (well, not really, just a guy named after him) to Goebbels to Hitler.
With the pacing Tarantino builds the suspense by drawing out scenes in a sometimes tedious manner. He’s superficially akin to David Lynch in this regard. Whereas Lynch achieves this with his brooding, menacing visuals and camera work, Tarantino does it with seemingly endless scenes of dialogue. However, unlike his earlier work which was marred by blathering hipster nonsense that was only intermittently successful as entertainment, here the dialogue (though sometimes stretched way too thin) is at the very least plot driven and used to develop characters when it’s not thickened with his favorite pastime…film talk. There’s plenty here for film buffs to revel in, not just obvious visual homages to Spaghetti Westerns and past war films or winks to Henri-Georges Clouzot, but also discussions of German cinema (Pabst and Riefenstahl) and one very funny King Kong joke that will be sure to offend.
All of this makes for the most interesting, unexpected and unpredictable film Tarantino has ever made. While it still contains all of his nervous and obnoxious ticks, they’re kept in check, and it also displays a maturity that seemed damned near impossible for him to achieve after the pointless garbage-fueled Death Proof. He makes no grand statements about life or death or war with Inglourious Basterds, but he does make a statement about film. For Tarantino, our would-be cinematic dictator, and his legion of willingly enslaved fans, watching movies both glorious and inglorious is pure fascist joy. And if that makes you a Basterd…well, then so be it.
Written by David H. Schleicher
From across the blogosphere, people can’t stop talking about IB.
Here are some of the highlights:
- The best piece I have come across yet discussing IB’s merits, de-merits, meaning and intrinsic value has come courtesy of Joseph “Jon” Lanthier at Bright Lights After Dark in direct response to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s much ballyhooed assertion that IB is operating as “Holocaust Denial”.
- Our friends at Wonders in the Dark weigh in and give me a much welcomed shout-out.
- A startlingly ruminative piece on IB’s appeal is offered up by Jamie Uhler.
- Meanwhile, Sam Juliano decries IB’s sophomoric sadism.
- For some fascinating follow-up, I encourage readers to also pay a visit to the discussion going on about the controversy surrounding IB’s immorality at D. Cairn’s Shadowplay film blog.
- There has also been much talk of (and I will try to be as vague as possible so as not to spoil it for people who have yet to see the film) the “face in the smoke” image conjured by QT at the film’s climax. I think it’s the defining moment of his career. For some talk of that and more on people’s mixed feelings concerning the film, I encourage you to visit the discussion going on at the Dear Jesus film blog.
- And lastly and most astutely, Bob Clark over at The Aspect Ratio offers up a scholarly exploration of IB’s relevance and compares the methods of QT to everyone from Fritz Lang to George Lucas.