Monday, March 29, 2010

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

All revisionist history should feature Hitler being machine gunned to death.

There are a handful of filmmakers in Hollywood with, what can be legitimately called, unique style and Quentin Tarantino is probably the leader of that group. What's even more impressive about his style is that, although it has changed surprisingly little in the nearly 20 years he has been in Hollywood, it hasn't gotten old yet. While Tarantino is not the most prolific director in Hollywood, he is certainly one of the most recognizable, so every new film he makes is greeted with a special kind of buzz. Inglourious Basterds was a film that everyone talked about in 2009 and one I missed because of my relocation to Korea. After several months, I have finally backtracked to see the movie and, even though it's far from my favorite Tarantino film, Inglourious Basterds is still full of unending humor, entertainment and style.

Loosely speaking, Inglourious Basterds is a film about World War II. It is full of Jew killing Nazi's and it's set in Nazi occupied France, but that's about where the factual comparisons must end. Inglourious Basterds is the story of a special group of American soldiers, from which movie takes it's title, that go on a special mission to scalp and maim every Nazi they meet. The entire team is made up of Jewish soldiers, save their lieutenant, played by the very un-Jewish Brad Pitt, and they take special delight in their assignment. The movie also serves as a revenge film for a Jewish women, who barely escaped with her life from an ambush led by super Jew hunter Col. Hans Landa, played by Christopher Waltz, and a piece of revisionist history that has Hitler being machine gunned to death inside a flaming theater. The film was extremely successful critically and financially, it's Tarantino's highest grossing film, and it picked up a fistful of Academy Award nominations, winning one for Waltz's performance. Even with the acclaim and success the film falls into many of the pitfalls common to Tarantino's films.

While Tarantino's style is, arguably, the biggest reason to watch his films, Inglourious Basterds generally fails at blending this style with the other elements required to make a successful film. One of the biggest flaws in almost every Tarantino movie is the lack of character development. Inglourious Basterds suffers from this problem immensely. There are a lot of twists and turns with certain characters in the movie and it would be nice to learn enough about the characters to truly see the twists coming. I'm not demanding that every character be given a complete, and thorough, history, just that I would like to learn a little bit more about the people that I will be watching for nearly three hours. It's easy to write off the lack of character by getting lost in the superb style, but the length of the movie is a problem no matter how you look at it. While cuts are always difficult to make, a movie of this nature should be shorter. The pacing here was generally pretty good, which kept it from dragging, but the movie was still too long in general.

The unspoken motto of every Tarantino movie is style over substance and Inglourious Basterds is no different. Luckily, the style here is good enough to justify that choice. There is something so "cool" about the blatant disregard towards historical accuracy that the movie pulls through any criticisms to remain an extremely entertaining ride. This is partly due to terrific performances by the ensemble, mostly Pitt and Waltz, who keep the movie lively even when it is going on too long. Good performances and sharp writing will carry a movie past almost any obstacle. While the writing fails on some of the basic fronts, like character development, it succeeds because the script is witty, smart and, best of all, laugh out loud funny at times. While World War II seems an odd place for levity, Tarantino balances the setting and the tone perfectly.

Inglourious Basterds, like most of Tarantino's movies, is hard to describe. What makes the movie good? It's good because it's "cool". What exactly makes a movie "cool"? That part I couldn't tell you. Whatever it is that makes movies "cool", Tarantino has perfected it and will continue to exploit it until he runs out of ideas. While Inglourious Basterds won't go down as my favorite Tarantino, it is a worthy addition to the group. This is another movie where you need to turn the analytical part of your brain off, park yourself in front of a screen and enjoy the ride.



The Mad Hatter said...

This review intrigues me, because while i agree with you that this is an amazing film...I find myself disagreeing with you on severla points.

For starters, Tarantino's "style"...he doesn't really have one all his own just yet (which I know sounds strange, given that he's got six movies under his belt). He's come up with a vision of filmmaking that's a hodgepodge of every filmmaker that's influenced him like Scorses, Leone, and too many B directors to list.

That said, of all his movie, I have to say this is the one where he's least interested in the cool factor. If he were, it wouldn't be 80% subtitled. If he were, it wouldn't be mostly talk and less action. Tarentino has made his bones creating cool movies, but I believe this is the one where he settled down a bit and made a more complete film...which is why it works so well.

To compare it with one of his cool movies, watch it back-to-back with the KILL BILL films.

As for the characters, I'm not so sure how much more fleshed out you want them to be. One protagonist is a jewish girl who narrowly escapes her own execution, needs to dance around the advances of an unwitting Nazi suitor, and channels all of this fear into a master plan to kill a whole brood of her would-be-killers.

Another character is an officer who could be a complete charicature in the hands of a lesser actor, but gets portrayed in a disturbingly charming manner we haven't seen since Hannibal Lecter.

Sorry for the rant, I just thought you were nit-picking which might well just be responding to hype.

Like you said - this is one really great film, and hopefully anyone who hasn't seen it will track it down.

Alfindeol said...

I was nit-picking because you have to start somewhere ;p I liked the movie a lot though, so my criticisms are only minor.

Even though his style is a blend of other filmmakers, that doesn't change the fact it is still unique. Tarantino has a long list of influences that make him such an interesting filmmaker, but he doesn't really resemble any of them in more than passing.

Shosanna is a character that doesn't need anymore set up or development. I thought she was done well and I wasn't surprised to find out that she was originally intended to be the main character. Landa benefits greatly from Waltz's performance, but that didn't prevent me from wanting to know more about him. Especially seeing as he ends up being a turncoat in the end. That felt like a swift shift from him. I would also like to know a little more about the Basterds, especially Pitt, and the German double agent. Those characters seemed weak to me.

Don't you dare talk about Kill Bill that way! ;p Kidding, but I do love those films.

Thanks for the amazing comment though. Really like it when people post more than "God review. I agree"