Friday, August 21, 2009

*Inglourious Basterds* Review

I just got back from seeing Inglourious Basterds. Though I had read some reviews, and heard Quentin Tarantino interviewed, I wasn't prepared for what I saw. Insomuch that it takes place in Nazi-occupied France, Inglourious Basterds is a war movie. But, it contains no scenes of combat, no actual warfare. The war is happening somewhere, but it only provides the historical context for the action of the film. Likewise, the titular Basterds are a presence, but they hardly dominate the film. (Which was the biggest, and most pleasant, surprise.)

As advertised, it's a revenge story. More accurately, it's a revenge fantasy. Its premise: almost everyone despises Nazis and, therefore, would love to see them tortured, humiliated, and fantastically annihilated. From the polarized reviews the movie has been getting, it's clear that those who loved it agreed with the premise; those who were disturbed by it, didn't. Put me firmly in the former camp.

I'm an admirer of Tarantino's, and, to my delight, Basterds contains many of his signature flourishes: an impeccable ear for music, sharp dialogue, highly-stylized characters, self-conscious homage to film genres, blood (lots of it), and storytelling bravado. Some might be offended by its brutality, mostly directed toward the Nazis. (In fact, we had a couple walk out during our screening.) But, if you were able to stomach Kill Bill, there's nothing here that would turn you off.

Many of the negative reviews focused on how the film glorifies violence, a repugnant idea to those critics. I disagree. The film glorifies justice. The Nazis get their just deserts, at the hands of those who deserve to give it to them.

And then there's Christoph Waltz, who plays Nazi Col. Hans Landa. Everything you've read is true, double underlined. It's a revelatory performance. Here I have to give equal credit to Tarantino. He's established himself as film's great casting director. He can he pick out talent from the "washed-up" (John Travolta, Robert Forester, and Pam Grier) and the relatively unknown (Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Waltz, who was a German television actor), and have them turn in star performances.

Inglourious Basterds builds to its spectacular climax with leisure. Thanks to Tarantino's knack for writing engaging scenes, I was never conscious of its (2 and 1/2 hour) length. I need to see it again, but right now I would rank it just below the underrated Jackie Brown, and above Kill Bill. (Pulp Fiction tops the list, Reservoir Dogs bottoms it).

If only history had actually played out as it is portrayed in Inglourious Basterds. Highly recommended.