Thursday, September 10, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

I saw Inglourious Basterds a couple of weeks ago. I waited a while to write about it for two reasons: one because I have no deadline on writing reviews; two because I was hearing some bizarre complaints concerning Brad Pitt's character, and I wanted to collect a few of them.

I am a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino. He gives the impression he wants to make movies both he and the audience can enjoy. He is one of the few directors I can believe gets self-gratification out of his own movies, and yet balances his own needs with the audience's. I have nothing but the greatest respect for Tarantino's talents as an auteur.

Everyone seems concerned that Pitt's character, Lt. Aldo Raine (aka "Aldo the Apache") is only in the movie for about 30-40 minutes. It is true Brad Pitt was displayed as the central character of the movie, but he's also the most noteworthy actor in it as well, which gives the movie commercial credibility. Personally, I think that just seems like another of Tarantino's tricks to surprise the audience. That's not to say Pitt doesn't do a good job; he does a great job and his presence seems to add a fantasy element to the movie. I can't deny, however, he gets out-acted by certain cast members.

The movie is presented, as Tarantino intended, as a Spaghetti-western taking place during World War II, with primary emphasis on Nazi-occupied France. The movie is divided into five chapters (in the same way Pulp Fiction was divided into three stories), except this time, there is less juggling with the story's timeframe. There are three camps that are the primary focus of the movie, and they all converge in the final chapter.

The Inglourious Basterds: A team of civilian Jewish Soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine. Their sole mission is to murder as many Nazis as possible, which is justified by a few members' flashbacks to their own mal-treatment at Nazi hands.

The Nazis are portrayed as a despicable breed. There are points, however, where they are portrayed as being paranoid about the state of the modern world, and see Jews and minorities as interferences in the modern world's progression. This ideology both justifies why the Nazis are what they are, and at the same time, makes them even more antagonistic.

The third camp is the smallest. Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a young, (secretly) Jewish-French girl who survived the brutal massacre of her family and is on the run under an alias running a movie theater. Understandably bitter about the world around her, she sees a golden opportunity to not only gain victory for the Jews, but bring brutal justice to the wrongs that were done to her.

The screenplay is unique. The characters are handled in a way that makes them sympathetic and understandable at the same time.

The primary antagonist of the picture is Standartenführer Hans Landa (aka "The Jew Hunter"), brilliantly portrayed by Austrian actor Christophe Waltz. The character is a layered sadist of a detective, whose vast attention to detail give him reason to feel like he is invisible. Landa's appearance bookends the movie. Right from the start, Waltz plays Landa like he is floating on air. This is certainly one of the most compelling characters Tarantino has ever created.

Mélanie Laurent's performance as Shosanna is very tender for the most part, but she turns heads with a demonic turn. And ironically, this demon actually possesses some sympathy.

As with his previous two movies, nostalgia obsessed Tarantino opens the movie pretty old fashioned like. He uses an old Universal logo (used in the 1970's and 80's). At my first viewing, there was a little kid. I couldn't see him but he sounded like he could have been from 6-9 years old. As soon as the old logo came upon the screen, the boy loudly went "Wow!" The rest of the audience (myself included) found that amusing.
* Please do not ask me what a kid this young was doing at this movie.*

The climactic scene in the French movie theater is a sight to behold on screen. I found myself wanting to laugh at several parts of it. The scene turns the whole movie on its head, and exposes the major idea behind it: that this movie is taking place during WWII in an alternate universe! One has to appreciate the sound design of that scene. The sound editors had a lot of volume to balance, and did so in a way that made the scene explode (pun intended).
The whole fifth chapter (about 30+ minutes long) is the highlight of the movie, and ties everything up in a pretty exciting, violent, darkly humorous, and satisfying way.

I better stop now before spoiling anything else. All in all, this is a great movie, on par with Pulp Fiction. I loved it. That's all I can say.

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