Saturday, August 22, 2009

REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds...

Quentin Tarantino is a god.

For those who read this blog a good amount, it should come to you as no surprise that I was looking forward to Tarantino's new film, Inglourious Basterds. The film has a brilliant cast, the script was beyond amazing, and oh, did I mention, it's QUENTIN TARANTINO. From Reservior Dogs to Death Proof, the man has made easily my favorite film of all time, in Pulp Fiction, and the quitessential revenge franchise, Kill Bill. Now it's his turn at WWII, in his much anticipated, 15 years in the making epic, Inglourious Basterds. Does it live up to that hype?

Basterds is a story that follows a young Jewish refugee Shosanna Dreyfus who witnesses the slaughter of her family by the devil himself, Colonel Hans Landa. Narrowly escaping with her life, she plots her revenge several years later when German war hero Fredrick Zoller quickly takes an interest in her and arranges an illustrious movie premiere at the theater she now runs. With the promise of every major Nazi officer in attendance, the event catches the attention of the "Basterds", a group of Jewish-American guerrilla soldiers led by the ruthless Lt. Aldo Raine. As the relentless executioners advance and the conspiring young girl's plans are set in motion, their paths will cross for a fateful evening that will shake the very annals of history.

Now, one would have you think, based soley on the marketing, that this was Quentins first true all out action film. Well, if you have read the script, or really know anything about the project, the fact that this isn't 100% true should not come as a surprise. However, the biggest part of this project that was mis-marketed was who the film follows. This is NOT a film that follows Brad Pitt, per se. It's a revenge film with Shoshanna as our lead.

That said, the first part of that long paragraph is not totally true. This film may be the single best action film this year. It just comes in a different way. Instead of physical punches and kicks, it's all about verbal beatdowns and stunningly intense often lengthy bits of dialouge.

Take the opening for example. It's about 15 minutes long, and it's all dialouge, but I have not been more on the edge of my seat during a scene this year. And I had a chance to actually read the script, so I knew what was going to happen. The film was able to take what I knew, and still leave my falling out of my seat. The dialouge throughout this film is not only a bit awkard, especially when given by Brad Pitt (particularly in a bit awkward scene near the end involving him and BJ Novak), but it's also some of the best of his career.

Some of the film does seem a bit rushed and as awkward as Brad Pitt giving dialouge as a cartoonish southern soldier, especially during his opening monoulouge which was fine on the page, but a bit weird when put on screen, but it also has some of the best visuals seen in his career. The project was but on a speeding fast track last year, all so Tarantino could get it out to Cannes, and it makes this a very interesting picture in his canon.

The film has it's closest relative in Kill Bill, and it mostly works. While that films dialouge was a tad better, instead of being a film sticking mostly to rotating shots of people discussing tipping and car films like in Dogs and Proof, it still has masterful scenes of dialouge, but it also has some of the most stunning visual flares of his career. For example, near the end of the film, there is a scene of brutal violence, that combined with the stunning use of music, may be the single best scene in any of his films. It's a stark version of what WWII would have been in the dreams of Tarantino. It's basic wish fullfillment in a cartoon with cartoonish versions of Hitler and JOeseph Goebells that not only was interesting to see on screen, but is a way to gauge what type of person you are watching this film with. My theatre had mixed reactions, ranging from awkward laughter (yours truly), to head in your hands, to a copy cat Eli Roth-esque smile.

The film follows Shoshanna, played by newcomer Melanie Laurent, who is not only beautiful, but gives a fantastic performance. With Jackie Brown, but more so Kill Bill, Tarantino has switched from being a very masculine writer, to putting that same sort of "guy talk" and masuclinity into his female characters. His last four films have followed strong female characters, and Laurent gives a performance that could easily join Uma Thurman as one of the better female roles in Tarantino's canon. She's the right type of sweet, especially with the interchanges between her and her lover, Marcel, with a right type of strength.

As her opposite is the only truly award worthy performance in the film, Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa. Everyone is riding this performance, so I will just say that it's easily the most perfect portrayl of evil seen on screen this entire year. He plays "the Jew Hunter", and take the evil of Anton Chigur from No Country For Old Men, and give him personality, and you would have something similar to Han. Not since Daniel Day-Lewis has evil been so personified on screen. THIS is the performance that people will be talking about come Oscar season. To be honest, this may be a stronger and more surprising performance than Heath Ledger as the Joker. Let the firestorm begin.

Brad Pitt is fine, a little weird but perfectly toned, and his cast of merry men have some of the best scenes of the entire year. Pitt is just a tad bit awkward, at least during his interchanges with Waltz. He does shine when the film needs a bit of laughter, particularly in the premiere scene, where it ends in such violence. He's a welcome addition to the film, but not the strongest part. The most polarizing of the roles may be Eli Roth, and where 99% of people hate the performance, I think he's perfect in the film.

The music is brilliant as well. Instead of relying heavily on source music, the score here is brilliant. It's a bit guitar heavy, but it's so strongly influenced by Spaghetti Westerns, that giving that sort of turn in a war film is really refreshing. The source music IS great here, and overall, this soundtrack is easily one of the best this year, maybe even more stellar than my personal favorite, 500 Days of Summer.

So really, all this review is attempting to say is that Tarantino had to be talking about himself at the end of this film when he has Brad Pitt look into the camera and say:

"I think this may be my masterpiece."

Because sir, this may very well be.


Go see something good!

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