DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Inglourious Basterds

Monday, 24 August 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds (2009) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brat Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth


Quentin Tarantino has made his best and most all-together entertaining film since “Pulp Fiction” – a film which curiously received tepid response at Cannes – yet stateside seems to have won over audiences and the majority of critics. The disconnect between what people saw overseas and what people see know perhaps has something to do with hot, late summer disposable cinema we want to see from an August event film. At Cannes, the overly critical search for masterpieces from the gluttony of social realism films would easily render this film a quick glance without pause.

Tarantino’s stamp is on the film from the opening credits – his trademark yellow font, and the anachronistic and obscure Ennio Morricone-type music cue which sets up Chapter One, ‘Once Upon a Time… in Nazi-occupied Germany’. A lengthy dialogue scene occurs between a sly German SS Col, Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and an innocent French farmer. Landa is looking for a missing family of Jews and suspects the farmer as the abetter. The lengthy dialogue scene pays off demonstrating Landa’s sadistic pursuit of his prey and Tarantino’s skills with words.

The scene must go on for 15mins of unbroken dialogue, and indeed it’s an imposing length which might indicate another wordsmith masturbation film for Tarantino, but no, Tarantino manages to weave a clever and tightly-plotted war film with all the dark humour, sudden violence and cinema zeal we expect from the man.

Although its chronological Tarantino plays with the traditional movie narrative by structurally condensing his two and a half hour film into a dozen or so individual scenes. Each scene could act as it’s own film, complete with its own ebb and flow, beat changes and twists. We track a number of Nazi-fighters looking to covertly take down the Third Reich from within. As the title suggests there’s the Brad Pitt-led Dirty Dozen/Kelly's Heroes of Jewish-American soldiers who travel the countryside literally scalping as many Nazis as they can. There’s the British contingent, led by Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), a staid upper-class scotch-drinking Brit sent to connect with the Basterds and plot the assassintion of Josef Goebbels. And then there’s the lovely Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) the beautiful survivor of the massacre from the first scene who now runs a French movie theatre and finds her method of revenge through a young German soldier smitten with her beauty and love of cinema.

Each of these stories converges like a Hitchcock thriller in a cinema and the premiere of a hilarious Nazi-propaganda film-within-a-film. We've seen in previous Tarantino films his frustrating penchant for self-stroking his own personal cinematic agenda often in substitute for audience’s desires. With Besterds, Tarantino couldn’t have written a more energetic and satisfactory conclusion, paying off every subtle character embellishment from the previous two and a half hours.

For good and bad, Tarantino still seems to be in his grindhouse/spaghetti western phase from 'Kill Bill'/'Death Proof'. A number of Morricone music pieces are used in addition a roll call of idiosyncratic musical choices – one of which I recognized from the great Eastwood war film “Kelly’s Heroes”. Other than the music cinematic style is less intrusive than in Kill Bill or Death Proof and there’s actually very few foot fetish close-ups.

Tarantino’s eye for casting is as sharp as ever, discovering two great new talents in Christoph Waltz who brings to life Tarantino's dialogue as good as anyone of his usual players, and the alluring Melanie Laurent who plays Tarantino’s new vengeful female character Shosanna Dreyfus. There’s enough characters that Brad Pitt doesn’t need to carry the picture and so his depiction of Lt. Aldo Raine as a hillbilly version of George C. Scott’s Patton is more than tolerable. Tarantino also makes good use of Michael “Hunger” Fassbender and non-actor Eli Roth who makes the most of his demented Jew Bear character.

A refreshing delight in general is the respect Tarantino shows for the languages in the picture. Dialogue is equal parts French and German and English - as well as a hilarious moment or two in Italian. Other than Mike Myers' anomalous but playful casting as a pompous British general, all actors play their own nationality, Germans as Germans, French as French, Americans as Americans etc. And in a couple of scenes when actors don't speak the language they're supposed it becomes a tool for Tarantino to ratchet up the tension of the film.

The increasing idiosyncratic nature of his films post-Pulp Fiction had me acquiescing that we’d probably never see a film equal to his sophomore masterpiece, which makes the altogether entertaining experience of “Inglourious Basterds” that much more glourious. Enjoy.

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