Monday, August 24, 2009

Tarantino, The Glourious Basterd Himself

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is truly Quentin Tarantino's movie. Not as self-indulgent as Death Proof, but utilizing all of his ability like he did in Kill Bill, it's certainly the biggest movie he's ever made and after being ten years in the making and starring the biggest movie star in the world, it will probably be the biggest hit of his career. But, is it his best film?

Like the boys in Swingers, I subscribe to the theory that Tarantino bites everything from Scorsese. And Hawks. And Leone, Bava, Kubrick and so many others. Which isn't to say I don't enjoy Tarantino's movies, I probably enjoy them more because I am aware of all the films that are being stolen, I mean, 'referenced'. When he is on his game, films like Jackie Brown are wonderful. He writes fantastically for his characters and his own world and the film is very darkly funny if you think Nazis were evil and killing them by any means necessary is a good thing. Twisting three story lines together from Jewish refugees to secret Allied operations and the Basterds themselves, the movie follows a typically QT non-linear structure that jumps back and forth between the three but gives equal time to all. You can tell he has spent almost a decade on the script and while it shows a lot of growth and development, he still relies on his older methods to make it through certain parts of the script. Basterds feels almost like he has tired of the criticisms and decides to steal mostly from himself. The film is mostly scenes of people sitting around, talking to each other with an occasional bloody killing to break them up. Divided in chapters a la, Kill Bill, each one involves at least one tension filled scene of terrific dialogue and great acting across drinks and a table. After strudel with the Jew Hunter in a Parisian cafe, you basically know how the rest of these are going to end up and they become redundant. The rest of the Tarantino hallmarks are here from close ups of Diane Kruger's feet, to voice over narration and other B-movies tricks.

Foot fetishes aside, what I enjoyed most about the movie was how much of it centered around cinema. For those moviegoers without a general knowledge of pre-WWII film, and specifically, early German cinema, there won't be anything that will be taken away from the enjoyment of the movie by missing these references, but for cinephiles like Tarantino himself, you can smile and nod at the discussions of Pabst, film nitrate stock and Riefenstahl, as well as Chaplin, King Kong and Dietrich.

The performances all around are terrific, particularly when one considers most of the movie is spoken in languages that Tarantino himself doesn't speak. He shows tremendous faith in his European actors and they do not disappoint. Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbinder as German and British soldiers, respectively are terrific and shine in their scenes. But, Melanie Laurent, as a Jewish woman living in occupied France, is mesmerizing on screen. Her mere presence gives us a sense of tension and fear at her true identity being discovered, but Tarantino ratchets it up whenever he gets the chance. I would have liked to see more resolution between her character and Waltz' 'Jew Hunter', but that was not to be.

PS - Brad Pitt is awesome in the film. But he's also awesome in real life.


Joy Reed said...

Tarentino is very twisted, but that is what makes him famous.

The Mad Hatter said...

There's something about the way Waltz eats his strudel that's rather unsettling...but I can't put my finger on what.

As for Laurent, she was brilliant in the femme fatale part. The two images that will forever stick with me in this film are both hers:

The brief moment of lipstick-as-warpaint, and the laughing projection thorugh the smoke.

Great review man - you've got some real insight going on here!

Big Mike Mendez said...

I think, while obviously Waltz could be pushed for Best Supp. Actor, Laurent's performance formed the emotional core of the movie. We started it with her and I was with her story all the way to the end. To me, the film ended when her story ended. At that point, I couldn't care if the Basterds succeeded or not.

Big Mike Mendez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

I absolutely agree that there needed to be more resolution between Shoshanna and Landa - that seems to be a common critique from fans.

I also agree with the earlier comment that the Basterds eventually become somewhat irrelevant as the story wears on. I see the Basterds as more of the Joker of this movie (shaking things up in the plot while the other characters hurl towards their respective destinies), except that Tarantino decided to name the movie after them. Had they not been the "featured protagonist", they would have come off as a very interesting addition to an already great array of characters.