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.

Good luck, Brad.
All in all, I'd have to say that if you've got the stomach for it, Inglourious Basterds is well-worth the price of admission.


Dan Binmore said...

I saw it last night. It is a movie about which I cannot make up my mind. It had all the ingredients for a great film, some fantastic acting, wonderful dialogue, wonderful plot twists, lovely cinematography, interesting characters. But I thought the whole was less than the sum of its parts. The very fact that it blends genres makes the film disjointed, as if Tarantino cannot keep his attention span long enough to make a single feature-length film.

There are some things about genre and cliche that make them work. If you have complex characters wrestling with complex problems having comedy/pornographic violence cheapens the points. If you are enjoying an action flick ten minutes of subtle dialogue kills the momentum. If you use cliche set-ups to show someone as a caricature of a bad guy then you need a hero to play off against them.

I'm stilling looking for a point, some meaning, something more than a collection of pictures to take from the film, and I haven't found it yet.

Eugene said...

I haven't seen it yet, but would still like to.

If you want to read about the real thing, "My Father's Secret War," I forget the author. A woman finds out her father was a spy during WWII and digs and digs and digs to find out why he is such a mess. True story. You probably won't hear about this in very much other media because these folks were sworn to lifelong secrecy.

I was told Spielberg was threatening to make a film about Jasenovac. Jasenovac was a concentration camp in Croatia so sick the Nazi's defended some of the people from these folks. It was ran by the Ustashe and backed by the Vatican, all the way to the genocidal pope, Eugenio Pacelli, aka pius xii.

Tarentino can't be as sick as the real stuff. Well, maybe...

Ridwan said...

Dade I am not much of a movie buff but I was wondering if you have seen "District 9".

I ask only because it is slated as a South African produced and locally filmed (Joburg and Soweto).

Apparently if media reports are accurate it is a hit in the US.

Some folks say it uses the apartheid past to portray some of the alien themes.

Just wondering.


Wayne said...

Loved this movie, love Tarantino. I think you and Dan seem to be missing a couple of thing in this one.

Nazis committed outrageous acts on their enemies. Having a Jewish commando unit behind the lines doing outrageous things to them, ending with blowing up Hitler and his close buddies was ironic payback. I believe my Jewish friends will love it.

The violence was fake. The blood was fake. It was a movie, not the reality of what Nazi Germany actually did. Real rape and slaughter and torture and grisly murder are pornographic, not their staged depiction on screen by someone making a point.

I am surprised you are a fan of Tarantino's work if you are upset by scenes of violence. Every movie he has done has contained blood and guts (or brains as in the case of Pulp Fiction) splattered about.

I doubt he is doing it to draw in the bloodthirsty crowds. They seem to be satisfied with simple gory pointless slasher flicks, not looking for greatness in their films at all.

Tarantino uses every tool at his disposal to make movies, be it gore, violence, comedy, dialogue, editing, etc.. You think he does not have to be so graphic, he believes he does. Simple difference of opinion and as a write/director/actor he has more say.

I am not a fan of gratuitous violence, but neither does it distract me from an otherwise good film. In this case, as in all of Tarantino's other work, I do not believe the gore is gratuitous or pornographic. Drug dealers do get their brains blown out, the Nazis marched across Europe wading through a sea of horror and gore. Including that in what is basically a fantasy comedy is fitting and had it been left out would have been noted and criticized as much as putting it in has been.

It's just a good movie, and the blood is fake. If anyone gets off on it, that is them, not Tarantino.

When I was a kid, they said comic books were too gory and would make kids want to do violence. Later they said cartoons were to violent and would do it. Then, especially after Columbine they said gory video games warped kids. And movies, They have always held movies promote violence. Such ideas are, and always have been, bullshit.

Some guys get off on sniffing shoes, some on gore. Neither should have any bearing on what an artist does in their work.

I give this movie five stars.