Friday, August 28, 2009

Inglourious Basterds - Mini-review

I saw Inglourious Basterds earlier this week, and I've just been letting it sink in. I think I need to see it again because there is so much going on, that I know I didn't catch it all.

First off, it's an excellent film -- and also a lot of fun. From the trailers and many commercials, you know the set up. Brad Pitt's Aldo Raine leads a group of American Jews in Nazi occupied France looking for Nazi scalps. The Germans call them the "Basterds". Horror director Eli Roth plays one of the "basterds" who is known as the Bear Jew, and his choice of weapon is a baseball bat.

What you haven't seen in the commercials is the character of Col. Landa, "The Jew Hunter," sent to find all the hidden Jews left in France. Landa is played by Christoph Waltz, an actor known for TV work in Germany, who won the best actor award at Cannes for this role. Waltz is simply amazing as Landa. Waltz, a German, also speaks French and English fluently. Tarantino said he despaired of finding a German actor for this role, as they couldn't speak the English parts well enough. He told NPR's Fresh Air, "What I write is a kind of poetry, and I needed someone who could speak my English lines like poetry." As Waltz auditioned with the first scene of the movie, minutes in, Tarantino knew he had found his Landa. It's a tour de force performance, and I hope earns him a nomination for supporting actor for this film. He charms, and also has just this lethal edge to him the entire time. Watching him eat streudel and fussing with a cigarette in one scene, you're fascinated, and terrified for the other character he's questioning. He simply owns every scene he's in, including those with Brad Pitt.

Ah, Brad Pitt as Aldo Raines. He just chews up his part as the Southern boy leader of this band of basterds. Total fun to see him in this part - "And I want my scalps!" I also loved Michael Fassbender as Hilcox, a former film critic (!) sent on a spy mission to pose as a German officer. He explains his accent away to some Germans by saying he was in the movie, Die weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü, (The White Hell of Piz Palu) a movie about a mountain disaster in the Alps. I actually looked up clips from that movie on YouTube, and notably, it's a silent film! Michael Fassbender is very funny in this movie, and it's great to see him have a chance to show a sense of humor for once.

There are so many movie references that fly by in this movie. It's a movie about movies, from the Spaghetti Western music used, to the movie theater that plays a prominent part in the plot. I actually laughed out loud at one point because of the music Tarantino chose to use -- David Bowie's "Putting out Fire (with Gasoline)" from Cat People! I have to say, it made sense at that point of the film, but it was just crazy, too. Brad Pitt's character has a noose scar that is never ever explained in the film, but is yet another film reference to a Clint Eastwood western.

I read this great review of Inglourious Basterds on Spoutblog before I saw the film, and I kept thinking about what Karina Longworth had pointed out. This is a film about propaganda and rumors.

The film’s guiding spirit is encapsulated in an exclamation by Landa in the first scene: “I love rumors! Facts can be so misleading.” Tarantino has made a movie about World War II filtered through rumor — verbally-transmitted urban legends, to be precise. There is no casual conversation in Inglourious Basterds; virtually every scene involves an interrogation and a chance for someone to brag about and/or live up to their reputation. Conscious of the world they live in — ie, not Hitlers, not ours, but Tarantino’s — characters on both sides of the divide take an active role in their own myth-making, to make sure that word gets out as to who they are and why they are to be feared, and everyone takes great pride in knowing that word is getting around. The film’s most oft repeated phrase is “What have you heard?”
Longworth saw the film at Cannes, and hated it, and then she watched it again and gained a new appreciation for Tarantino's film.

Tarantino has made a WWII fable, and we're tipped off to this by the beginning, "Once upon a time, in occupied France..." He's made his own revenge fantasy and rewritten history, but it's not just about that. There are layers and layers here, and it's going to take multiple viewings for me to puzzle them out. I won't say much more, because it's just fun to watch the plot lay out. Since it's Quentin Tarantino, you're never quite sure just what's going to happen next, but you know that you'll have a great time watching it.

Four stars, and I urge you to see it in a theater so you can experience it with an audience. Didn't August used to be the dumping ground for bad films? Certainly not this year! I hope we see Christoph Waltz again come Awards season -- and in more films to come. What a treasure Quentin has unearthed!


  1. This movie was beyond awesome. I was hesitant to watch this film for I am the biggest chicken when it comes to violence. Yet, I enjoyed this film so much, the pure fantasy retelling of the war, slightly off kilter and purely gratifying to the soul. A film you definately have to watch a few times.

    btw...didn't you think that Brad Pitt was amazing. Loved his accent.

  2. I did think Brad Pitt was awesome. Much better than Benjamin Button, that's for sure! So fun to see Fassie, and Eli Roth doesn't hurt the eyes either!

    But Christoph Waltz was the one who really blew me away with his acting.