Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Movie review: Inglourious Basterds
Hey, everybody! Have you heard? Quentin Tarantino has a new film out!
Written facetiously, of course. The "Hipster" film set has been slavering over this opening for many anticipatory weeks.
And why not? Tarantino has some really good flicks under his belt: the ground-breaking Pulp Fiction, of course, and the Kill Bill diad, but also Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown.
But, for me, Tarantino has lost some of his luster over the years. His films are usually entertaining, granted; the dialog is always fantastic, and he manages to create humor in the most unlikely of situations. Then, of course, there is the agonizing, adrenaline-filled psychological tension that pervades his work. That's the stuff that keeps you coming back. But, on the down side, I am vaguely offended by his over-the-top, psyche-jolting depictions of violence. It seems gimicky and pornographic and I dislike the appeal it seems to have with some of Tarantino's most ardent fans.
Inglourious Basterds is a comic-book fantasy story, done in the classic five-act format, of backwoods Tennessee Jew, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who leads a band of Jewish-American soldiers in WWII behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France to sow terror. Meanwhile, a young Jewish girl, Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) narrowly escapes death when her family is slaughtered by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), "the Jew Hunter," an extraordinarily competent SS officer. As the story develops, their various paths begin to converge, culminating in an apocalyptic crescendo at a cinema in Paris.
This film is really very good. The performances are all top-notch, but most especially Waltz's protrayal of Landa as the ultimate mercenary pragmatist. (Also, a shout out to Michael Fassbender as the unflappable British officer, Archie Hicox.) The sets, the costumes, and the lighting altogether comprise a visual feast. And, of course, the quirky Tarantino dialog sets the film apart. Part of Tarantino's appeal is his ability to insert philosophical discussions into action-packed high-tension scenes, and Basterds is no exception.
But, again, there are the vulgar depictions of violence and torture. It is revealing to me that the talkie set was all a-whisper about the scene that involves a baseball bat and the head of an unfortunate German prisoner. I find it offensive that people might go to a movie in the hopes of seeing a depiction of a defenseless man getting his skull bashed in. People that enjoy that kind of thing have serious psychological deficiencies, in my opinion. (For what it's worth, I covered my eyes during that scene...) Tarantino seems to raise the bar for graphic violence with every new flick. I suppose I'm still a fan, but this particular habit makes me leary.
Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't make note of how the film homages the spaghetti-western genre. In fact, one could very well argue that Inglourious Basterds is a remake of Sergio Leone's masterpiece, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, complete with Ennio Morricone soundtrack. In this case, Laurent is cast as the Good, Waltz as the Bad. Pitt has the unenviable task of stepping into Eli Wallach's gigantic shoes as the Ugly. The opening scene of Basterds is straight out of Leone's earlier piece.