Sunday, December 27

Some quick thoughts on Inglourious Basterds (2009)

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After finally getting down with Tarantino's latest last night, I'm still perplexed by Inglourious Basterds. Fits and starts of bold artistic strokes make for the most audacious revisionist WWII flick ever mounted. Yet the nonchalant pace and fuck you focus on minutiae make for a wartime "adventure" that's nowhere near as entertaining as other pulpy military classics such as Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, and Kelly's Heroes. Despite all four of the aforementioned having similar 150 minute runtimes, Basterds lacks the "pick-and-go" watchability of the other three. In other words, I don't think I could start in the middle of Tarantino's film and get totally sucked like seeing Posey trying to stick the Major or hearing Oddball keep mentioning positive and negative waves, man.

Just to get this out of the way, people that wish to question Tarantino's moral compass by his film's complete absence of the Holocaust or negative portrayal of fucking Nazis (seriously, people?) are overripe with malformed politically correct rhetoric. Tarantino's intentions have always been clear and the marketing hasn't sold a false bill of goods to the masses. Inglourious Basterds is a cathartic, gory chunk of Nahhh-Z killin' and there's nothing wrong with that. An historical improvisation any levelheaded individual would find as an immensely gratifying, albeit hypothetical end to the upper fascist crust of the Third Reich. Perhaps some have sour grapes over certain performances in such a Nazi hating picture being so magnificent.

The best thing about Basterds is Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent. Those harshly critical would only be doing a disservice to themselves to lump the perfect turns of these two into their gripes. Waltz is amazing diffusing just the right amount of sardonic hokum (it's a QT joint after all) into supreme jackboot prowess making his every word a source of utter dread. His Colonel Hans Landa is one of the greatest on-screen portraits of amiable villainy in decades. Mélanie Laurent's Shosanna Dreyfus shows an actress talent well beyond her twenty-six years. Female protagonist Dreyfus is stridently confident vocally yet continually says so much more in silence. It's the kind of American mainstream peel back into the world of superb acting craft abroad to savor while it lasts (Waltz as well), and no spoilers, but at one point you literally want to punch Quentin in the face over her character's path.

Everyone else are pretty much amoebas floating around these Herculean performances. This defeats the purpose of having Pitt and his bastards included at all. We hear much more about the dastardly exploits and murderous reputation of the group than we actually see. Besides some scalping, one instance of baseball bat cranial destruction, and the men clandestinely hopping about the film's map out of convenience. Til Schweiger brings the psychotic bad ass as Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (har har) but again isn't given much to do along with his other basterds. Some in the group simply disappear and Pitt's cornball-accented Lt. Raine is no Eastwood or Marvin. Though Raine's "bonjourno" struggle with Landa at the premiere is hilarious. Eli Roth? No idea. I'm assuming these guys (especially Brad) had to be included for the sake of studio suit comfort, but given more time it's not impossible to imagine Tarantino slicing out these Jewish Nazi-slaughterers entirely in subsequent drafts in favor of the feature's real thrust.

Things
intensely disliked are the out-of-period/-genre musical selections (Cat People, really?), the Sam Jackson-narrated explanations of Stiglitz's past and nitrate film's flashpoint, and the notices of who certain Nazi luminaries are by scribbled on-screen text. The tedium of the longwinded Hammersmark basement bar conversation is best fast-forwarded through in future viewings. I could watch Landa or Dreyfus for hours, but this mind-grinding scene is probably thee example of Tarantino becoming far too obsessively infatuated with his characters to the audience's detriment. Not having anywhere else to put this, the film's final reel is truly excellent and we witness a director working at a sustained career high as fates converge and some fascists meet a taste of the Hell they've wrought. If Inglourious Basterds proves anything, it's that Tarantino is almost there (this is akin to two different yet similar WWII films actively colliding) and there's more than enough here to deem this his best "actors film" up to this point...
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3 comments:

J. Astro said...

An inviting review, and I'm all the more eager to check this out for myself, finally. Several false starts and laziness kept me away from this in theaters, but a Blu-ray copy was scored for Xmas and shall be watched by-the-by... your review certainly cements its place at the top of my "to-watch" list.

Pax Romano said...

I really enjoyed this movie, flaws and all.

The final half hour or so is so damn excellent, that I can forgive the meandering road that brought us to the ending.

the jaded viewer said...

What should be included in this DVD is Tarantino chatting it up with Enzo G. Castellari who was the director of the original (its on the original's Special Edition DVD). Because during that interview Tarantino who was writing the script during that time struggles with what to keep and what to remove.

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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