Friday, August 21, 2009

Review: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Inglourious Basterds
150 minutes
Rated R

by Scott Mendelson

There's an absolutely fantastic 110-minute thriller hidden beneath the somewhat bloated 150-minute Inglourious Basterds. Two things save the picture from its over-length and Tarantino's now infamous need to have characters ramble on. First of all, unlike the dreadfully dull Death Proof, the never-ending conversation is used in several major scenes as a way to build suspense and tension. In the frighteningly effective prologue as well as several other moments, the non-stop babbling is used as a weapon and an instrument of fear. Most of the chit-chat belongs to Christoph Waltz, who plays the would-be villain of the picture. As a 'Jew Hunter' personally dispatched by Hitler to find hidden Jews, Col Hans Landa uses the art of allegedly sophisticated conversation to draw out the moment, to further intimidate his would-be victims.  Truth be told, in terms of screen time and impact, Waltz is truly the star of this film. And yes, it's ironic that a revisionist fantasy about Jewish American soldiers terrorizing Nazis is in fact stolen by the Nazi. It's a star-making turn and I'll be shocked if Waltz doesn't receive an Oscar next year.

The other saving grace of the picture is its structure. The film is comprised of five chapters, the first three running just over an hour total, with the final two parts taking up nearly 90-minutes. In a way, the film feels more like five one-act plays that eventually blend together to tell one story. The film's fans will each have their favorite chapter. The first is the tightest and most suspenseful, the fourth is the one that will please the Tarantino fans, and the finale is... well let's just say that's where most of the footage from the previews is taken from. The Tarantino picture earns points for having female leads who are actually adult women. Diane Kruger plays an inversed variation on Errol Flynn and Melanie Lauremen (really the film's second lead) reminds us of how damn sexy elegance can be. If she has an American film career after this, it'll be largely due to the opening shots of the fifth chapter. Brad Pitt basically chews scenery and Eli Roth has nothing to do. Despite itself, and despite the pervasive outright subversive immorality of the entire picture ('yea-haw... let's cheer on as pissed-off Jews become every bit as vile as the Nazis that they are fighting!"), the movie works as a movie.

 Oddly enough, a climactic moment of reflection seems to be almost apologizing for the crude tone and absolutely heartless violence of the previous 135-minutes, which had me wondering if this was some kind of subversive take on the 'lets make our enemies inhuman' philosophy that drives both war and general malaise. I'm willing to give QT the benefit of the doubt.  I'd be lying if I didn't say I was turned off by the utter lack of humanity at play (the basterds are such merry and soulless killers that there are moments where our sympathies lie with the Nazi victims), and I wish I knew if Tarantino was trying to say anything of merit.  I'd like to think that the film is in itself a subversive reflection on how we demand revenge fantasies as a way of morally atoning for the less savory elements of our past.  And there are elements, especially in the last reel or so, which play into the idea of how we often view our history through a cinematic lens 

Subtextual or no, Inglourious Basterds is a fine mess of a movie, an often suspenseful, occasionally witty, and always entertaining bit of, yes, pulp fiction.

Grade: B+

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

Free Movies said...

Just got back from the film. It was exciting and completely met my expectations tenfold. I thought it was one of Tarantino's best. A definite masterpiece.


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