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Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds (***)


When you go to a Quentin Tarantino film, the best thing to do is not resist and place yourself in his hands. You're subject to his whims, his exuberance, and his desire to tell you his story the way he wants to tell it for as long as he wants to tell it to you. You're not going anywhere anyway for two and a half hours so either you enjoy it or try to enjoy it. Inglourious Basterds turns out to be a Tarantino-imagined alternate reality version of World War II told in five chapters. Four of the chapters, vignettes roughly 30 minutes in length, I thought were really good: The opener where a French farmer surrenders the Jews he is hiding to the Nazi Colonel nicknamed "The Jew Killer". The chapter detailing how a Nazi war hero/movie star chased after a French cinema owner and arranged the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film in her theater with all the Nazi High Command in attendance. The scene in a tavern basement that turns deadly violent. The final chapter in the theater where all points converge and Tarantino imagines a unique ending to the war. These descriptions really don't even do the events in the film justice. A big surprise is how un-interesting and cartoonish the Basterds themselves are. None of them are three dimensional characters and you don't much care for any of them. But then so little time is actually spent with the Basterds that it hardly matters. Despite the marquee cast lead by Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, and BJ Novak, Inglourious Basterds really belongs to three actors: Gorgeous Melanie Laurent in a star-making (to American audiences) performance, Daniel Bruhl as the Nazi war hero-cum-movie star infatuated with her, and Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa, the most mesmerizing and fascinating villain I've seen in a film in a very long time. Landa is instantly one of the best movie villains ever and Waltz is a lock for an Oscar nomination, if not the victory itself. I also really liked how the gestapo colonel spotted the British officer posing as a Nazi by how he made a three sign with his hand and the Basterds' pathetic attempt of posing as Italian filmmakers. Mike Myers' brief presence is also the funniest he's been in years. Inglourious Basterds is bloody violent with its fair share of main characters meeting inglorious ends. It doesn't add up very satisfactorily as a whole, but it's very entertaining moment-to-long-drawn-out moment, and Tarantino keeps you guessing throughout his fantasy about the most beautiful film fanatic in France personally ending World War II. Even Hitler himself would have been shocked at how the war turns out in Quentin-land.