Saturday, 10 October 2009

Inglourious Basterds (2009)



Plot Summary: In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as ‘The Basterds’ are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. The Basterds soon cross paths with a French-Jewish teenage girl who runs a movie theatre in Paris which is targeted by the soldiers.

The story goes that Quentin Tarantino has been working on the script for his new film, Inglourious Basterds, for over ten years. He was originally meant to shoot it in 2004 but Kill Bill got in the way, Michael Madsen was meant to star at one point and he even toyed with the idea of making a TV series out of the material. As such, anticipation for the film rose and rose until earlier this year the film was finally released to an eager fan-base. The question is, was it all worth the wait? As unsatisfying as it sounds, the resounding answer is merely sort-of. With his sixth film as director Tarantino has managed to make two wildly different, but both extremely captivating films. However, by condensing them both into one feature his synthesis yields a regretfully average film.

The film is essentially split into two storylines; one about a group of American soldiers dropped behind enemy lines and another about a cinema owner who plans to kill most of the Nazi elite at a movie premier. The former is a gloriously over-the-top Jewish revenge fantasy that recalls the directors previously forays into exploitation cinema such as Grindhouse, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill while the latter is a suspenseful, dialogue intense and thoughtful exploration into the power of cinema. The acting throughout both plotlines is almost faultless with almost every character giving a performance typical of Tarantino’s gift for characterisation. Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa is the obvious standout as the equally charming and terrifying ‘Jew Hunter’ and it comes as no surprise that he won the best actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Waltz takes over every scene he appears in and makes for some of the films funniest yet tense moments. Brad Pitt also makes a very entertaining Southern hick and even Eli Roth is convincing as the hugely overdramatic ‘Bear Jew’.

The Basterds section of the film is fun from start to finish, dripping with Tarantino cool, excessive violence and unforgettable characters. The finest scene has to be the basement bar rendezvous with Bridget von Hammersmark and the ensuing shoot-out and eventual Mexican stand-off. This part of the Basterds’s journey really is Tarantino at his finest; lengthy but captivating dialogue, extremely tense atmosphere and of course, more-than satisfying bloodshed. The scene is so well paced and choreographed that it more than stands up to the briefcase scene in Pulp Fiction and the final scene from Reservoir Dogs. However, it is really Shosanna’s half of the film that triumphs as it contains far more substance and intrigue for the audience to chew on long after the credits have rolled.

Mélanie Laurent’s character is a vulnerable yet fierce personality that is far more relatable and sympathetic than all of the Basterds put together. Her final plan to destroy the Nazi elite, combined with inclusion of the fictional Nazi propaganda film ‘Nation’s Pride’, is a brilliant literal and metaphorical portrayal of the power of cinema to influence popular opinion, settle personal vendettas and ultimately; to change history itself (be it an alternative end to World War II or simply Tarantino’s hard and fast approach to historical accuracy). The first scene, in which Shosanna’s entire family are slain at the hands of Landa, is one of the most suspenseful I’ve seen in a long time while the montage of Shosanna getting ready for the film premier set to David Bowie’s ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ is simply superb.

Regardless of the narrative oversight previously mentioned Inglourious Basterds is also host to a number of other drawbacks. Violence is a Tarantino trademark, granted, but it was always most effective when suggested, rather than explicitly shown to the audience. With his latest film this technique seems to have been thrown out of the window in favour of an in-your-face approach which adds very little to the film. Another element Tarantino is praised for is his soundtracking ability, which, while not entirely absent from the film, most definitely lacks in comparison to his earlier work. The soundtrack is compiled mostly of original pieces of music taken from old Westerns and war films of the 60s and 70s which work sometimes but are often jarring and deinterpolating. Drawing again from the exploitation films of old the director also uses on-screen titles to introduce certain characters (Hugo Stiglitz and most of the Nazi elite later in the film) which worked well in his previous films but seemed out-of-place in the wider context of the film. These problems, combined with the decision to combine two stories which could both have easily been their own films, make for an enjoyable yet frustrating outing.

Final verdict: 7/10


typejunky said...

The bit that got me, was Pitt's Brando impersonation when he was pretending to be Italian, comedy genius.

Ginger Ranger said...

Haha, that bit was proper funny.