August 23, 2009
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent
Release Date: August 21, 2009
Quentin Tarantino. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying the man is an auteur who has changed modern filmmaking. His films ooze a peculiar flair that, more often that not, is reminiscent of the “style over substance” breed of movies from yesteryear. Tarantino has a dark sense of humor that tends to balance out his absurdly complex (though sometimes serious) plots, and, thankfully, he’s got an eye for characterization that tends to save his movies from oblivion.
Though I enjoyed his recent Death Proof, it was somewhat underwhelming when viewed in the context of his other goliath, game-changing offerings (though that was the whole point, I still felt there was more that could’ve been done–and Death Proof is one instance where I think he let his “too cool for school” dialogue get away from him). But I digress; we’re here to talk about Inglourious Basterds, a movie that’s had a lot of buzz surrounding it ever since it went into pre-production.
Basterds is unlike anything Tarantino has ever tackled, yet it’s strikingly similar to what I consider two of his greatest films–Kill Bill (Vols. 1 & 2). It explores the familiar theme of revenge, has the same “Chapter” scene dividers, and even recycles much of the same music for its soundtrack. Some might view this as lazy filmmaking, but I think it’s a sign that Tarantino is starting to mature as a director. Like all noteworthy filmmakers with certain stylistic hallmarks, he seems to have found his rhythm, as it were, and has crafted a movie that’s more emotionally resonant than any of his previous offerings.
The opening scene, for example, is simultaneously understated and absorbing. It features Tarantino’s trademark dialogue—as do virtually all other scenes—and it gives all of the players involved a chance to fully flesh out their characters. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that it’ll have your heart thumping; it’s also immediately evident that Tarantino has become a master of wringing every drop of emotion from his actors and actresses.
Then, in the very next breath, we’re thrust into the realm of Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his squad of Jewish-American soldiers known as “The Basterds.” Their mission is simple: to brutally murder Nazis and spread fear throughout the Third Reich. Forget what you know about the history behind World War II—though there is apparently a kernel of truth as to what inspired the plot, Inglourious Basterds is, on the whole, a completely fictitious endeavor. While this has upset some critics, it is, in many ways, a credit to Tarantino as a writer, as this decision causes us to remain on our toes throughout the entire 153 minute runtime (because, of course, we have absolutely no idea how the events in the film will unfold).
But I digress. Let’s return to our previous topic—that regarding the violence found in Inglorious Basterds. As you’d imagine, Tarantino allows Raine and company to accomplish their assigned mission by forcing us to watch the most gruesome of occurrences (such as captured German soldiers being scalped, knifed, and beaten to death with a baseball bat). While the subject matter automatically calls for an undisclosed amount of violence, there are times—as with his other films—where it’s obvious that Tarantino is indulging his own insatiable desire to douse the screen with blood. The question, then, is this: Is all of that gory violence a bad thing?
Essentially, Tarantino has used the backdrop of World War II to create a combination revenge flick/dark comedy—but Inglourious Basterds is so much more. What makes this stand out from his other movies is the fact that it’s often deeply serious—much more so than I would’ve imagined, in fact. Many critics have found the movie disrespectful because of the liberties it takes with history and its comic nature. I take some contention with this assessment. Based on the emotion present here (and the care with which its so skillfully woven into what would otherwise be a blood and guts revenge story), it’s clear that a fair degree of “respect” was front and center on the director’s mind as he worked on this uncharacteristically affecting piece. Really, Basterds is a sort of non-comedy that knows how to keep its very adult themes serious without being so serious that they’re steeped in an inaccessible gloom that makes viewers feel cold and detached from the things happening on-screen.
My only problem with the movie has to do with the shift in tone found at the ending (I’m talking the end-end…the very end). Based on the level of maturity found throughout the bulk of the movie, it felt just a little too out of place—just a little too whimsical, perhaps—and it seems to undermine an especially powerful scene that appears only moments before.
On the whole, though, Inglourious Basterds is superb. It’s got that certain Tarantino flair, and, if you can handle the gore, you’ll see a smartly written movie that’s both entertaining and emotionally gripping.
out of 5
Rated R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality.