Thursday, August 27, 2009

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

By Eric Jessen 8/26/09

Quentin Tarantino is a unique director. He is the ultimate movie geek film maker. His movies are an endless homage, a slapped-together mash-up of exploitation b-movies and his Fave 5 soundtracks (Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western music and David Bowie's “Putting Out Fire” from the 1982 remake of Cat People). They are whimsically gory and sarcastically serious. They indulge QT's extraordinary movie love. He is lovably hip if somewhat childish, wearing tennis shoes and giving the peace sign on talk shows. And with Inglourious Basterds (speaking of childish, what a title) QT has nearly accomplished something unprecedented. At least for a good portion of the movie Inglourious Basterds is the first funny, entertaining cartoonish slam-bang action spoof of the Nazis and the Holocaust.
The movie is made up of 5 chapters. The first begins at a quiet dairy farm in 1941 occupied France where SS officer Hans Landa, aka “The Jew Hunter” (played by Christoph Waltz who won the best actor award at the Cannes film festival for his performance), is visiting the LaPadite family out of suspicion that they are hiding Jews. In another chapter we meet the “Basterds,” a renegade group of Jewish American soldiers tracking down and killing as many Nazis as possible. Their leader is Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), aka “Aldo the Apache,” a rough and tumble hick from Tennessee. Other note worthy “Basterds” are “The Bear Jew” (Eli Roth) who clubs German skulls like Ted Williams does baseballs and Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) known as a master of slitting throats.
For the most part Inglourious Basterds is a success and the ending a wonderful rewrite of history, the perfect “burn baby burn” Nazi slaying. But unfortunately the movie stumbles over a few attempts at seriousness. As a result the collection of scenes seems uneven. The bursts of raucous comic violence clash with drawn-out scenes of genuine tension. Most of the 5 chapters begin slowly with scenes of interesting subtle dialogue and then end with guns blazing.
Even some of the individual scenes seem off balance. I think this is mainly because of the brilliant performance of Christoph Waltz as the chilling and menacing SS “Jew Hunter.” Waltz brings a seriousness and believability to his roll which is sometimes awkward to watch because he is paired with characters that aren't at all serious (especially Brad Pitt and his silly accent). His performance adds a new more complex dimension to the film, but one I think Tarantino isn't ready to handle.
Watching Inglourious Basterds, we laugh and get excited at the scalpings, Aldo poking and digging his finger in a bullet hole, carving swastika's in German soldier's foreheads. We get all riled up for a Tarantino stylish sadistic blood bath (in a sexy Nazi red) because his lack of seriousness allows us to ignore any of the horrible, sad implications of death. But the second I closely connect to a character or in this case see the true Nazi in Hans Landa, the endless corpses take on meaning (Landa's strangling of Bridget Von Hammersmarck played by Diane Kruger is the first brutal hard-to-watch death I've seen in a Tarantino movie). The nasty implications of Inglourious Basterds rear their ugly head. I remember I'm not supposed to laugh and have fun watching a movie about WWII and the Holocaust. And the somber topic is a total buzz kill of my Tarantino Nazisploitation thrill ride.

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