Saturday, August 22, 2009

Review: Inglourious Basterds

Most World War II movies feel as though they're fossilized in amber like a "Jurassic Par" mosquito. There's always a bit of distance and "sit up in your seat there, boy, pay attention"-ness to them.

With "Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino takes a baseball bat to the amber. He gives us a WWII flick that feels like a dirty story your grandpa would have told you if he got drunk enough. It's officially the most historically accurate film about the war ever made, because it shows how Adolf Hilter actually died in a movie theater, Mike Myers spent his pre-"Wayne's World" career a mugging British officer and everything anybody ever said sounded as zippy as though it had been written by Tarantino.

One of Tarantino's goals in the film seems to be to surpass the grotesqueness of his "Reservoir Dogs" ear-slicing scene. You see Louisville sluggers splatter Nazi brains, knives carve swastikas into foreheads, and let's not even get into all the scalping. It's disgusting, repulsive, and Tarantino through and through. The violence isn't symbolic or profound, it's just there for its own sake. Tarantino just tosses it in there because he can, much the same way he dutifully misspells both words in his title and includes a gratuitous scene to indulge his foot fetish. He's built a mythos on redefining the cinematic world through his own willfully immature, defiantly silly point of view, and Lord bless him for it, because I'd take authoritative voice over talent any day of the week, and Tarantino has both.

Every minute of the film seethes with enthusiasm. Is Tarantino is exposing the moral vacancy of war by swapping the Jewish and Nazi roles as unfeeling slaughterers and meek victims? Maybe, but I doubt such thoughts even crossed his mind as he pounded away at this script over the years. This is revisionist history of the highest order, a Sparks Notes version of trivia culled from drug-addled notes scribbled in the margins.

One of the biggest knocks on the movie from the naysayers, other than the usual gripes about Tarantino's vengeance obsession and self-awareness, is that the characters are among his flattest and his dialogue doesn't sing with the jot-it-down-and-repeat it catch-phrasiness of some of his past work. I think I agree, although it hardly wiped the grin off my face. If this is cardboard cutout puppet theater on a street corner, it's good enough to get me to empty my pocket change into the hat. The performances are all excellently tuned for exactly what the story calls for, particularly Brad Pitt's southern-fried Patton-by-way-of-Knute Rockne motivatinal speeches. Eli Roth is no actor, but his stunned oblivion is exactly what loopy Sgt. Donny Donowitz needs. If mustache-twirling Cristoph Waltz doesn't give a best supporting actor worthy performance as Nazi Jew-hunter Hans Landa is, then I'm incapable of identifying such a turn.

But the real star of the movie is Melanie Laurent, undoubtedly Tarantino's new Uma Thurman, as Shoshanna, the wings-plucked manic pixie dream girl who runs her own theater and concocts a masterplan that changes the course of history.

The movie is perfect for what it is, and a hell of a rebound after it seemed the auteur lost a little off the fastball with "Death Proof." I rank "Inglourious Basterds" behind most of his other films, ahead of only "Death Proof" and "Jackie Brown," but it's in the same ballpark as his ingenious classics and by far the best World War II film I've ever seen.


Sibasish said...

It's one of the worst films on the Great War. This again shows how trash Hollywood is, how mindless goof ups rake in millions in an industry shorn of brains, how a very average director gets all the hype for being just average. And let's not even get into the racist rants throughout the film. What a horrible trash of a movie. And I don't know who pays this guy for writing reviews, either he is trying to sound too avant garde or he is too naive to even watch WWII movies. By the way, have you even heard of a guy called Steven Spielberg who happens to be making movies for a living?

desertdoc said...

Phil's reviews are usually right on target, and I also appreciated this film,but to say that it is the greatest movie on the Second World War( the Great War, Sibasash, usually refers to the First World War) is quite misleading until you understand that it was meant tongue-in-cheek. The movie is to some extent, of course,fantasy and unnecessarily violent,but it is also gripping,disturbing,thoughtful,well-crafted brilliant,beautifully photographed,written,and directed, and there were some great performances,Christoph Waltz, in particular.The ongoing voice and Golem-like image of Shoshannah from the cinema screen near the end of the movie is a direct but highly effective steal from an Indiana Jones movie(Temple of Doom, I think) and adds to the power of the ending. I was skeptical going in, but highly recommend this movie(after all, it is a movie!!) for those with a strong constitution!!

¬Will Ross said...

Sibasish actually thinks that because the film shows nazis (who are explicitly portrayed as evil villains) making racist speeches that the film itself is racism.

Sibasish also has no clue what the terms "avant garde" or "naive" mean.

eliza said...

In the world of writer / directors, Tarantino is the bridge between man and superman. This movie is a super-hyped, sexy, violent, masturbatory pie-in-the-face affair. It is certainly one of the most important popular films to be made in this modern time period, perhaps the most since The Matrix, and everyone should watch it. Having seen it once, I am disturbed by the vision of Hell near its ending, which, in my view, serves to contradict the very joy the writer apparently hopes to achieve with his original film making. Myself, being a firm believer in the hopefulness of the human collective spirit, saw many enlightened examples of inspired writing and directing, despite the celebratory use of violence and murder in the film, which is unquestionably disturbing. However, in one moment, this horrible scene destroys the humanity of the entire picture, and the only conclusion I can draw at this point in time is that Tarantino is unwittingly channeling the inevitable fiery demise of our hedonistic society. So, I am saddened, because, while I felt like weeping, other audience members were laughing. This man, Tarantino, is the best popular writer / director we have, and, having said that everyone should see this film, and also having said that I plan on owning it, I look forward to the day when the true King will come, and write and direct the movie that this man is halfway to conceiving, and then, we will all truly know what a movie can mean, to the world.

Unknown said...

@sibasish. What made you think the movie was racist? Yeah the Nazis said some things against the Jews and the Blacks, but didn't you notice that it was a Black who finally stoked the fire? The fact the movie showed it without milking that scene (something your Spielberg would definitely do) speaks a lot.
And please grow up the "mindless goof ups rake in millions in an industry shorn of brains" bit is more apt for Spielberg.

Anonymous said...

Not even close to the best WWII film ever made....that honor goes to "Saving Private Ryan"......that said, "Inglorious Basterds" has some moments of brilliance (the opening scene, the standoff in the bar, Shosana's fate) and some stultifying boredom too (most of the bar scene)
When the film began I thought maybe, just maybe we were finally seeing an adult Tarantino, one who could give us a nuanced, tightly edited and emotionally satisfying story. Turns out that was a false start....
If that final scene in the theater was homage to an Indiana Jones film, it was most likely to Rainder of the Lost Ark, with the nazis faces melting.
It seems with nearly everyone dying in the end, is Tarantino making the point that vengeance is destructive to those who seek it?

You just can't get too yahoo cheerful from seeing Hitler getting his face blown to Swiss cheese by an automatic weapon.
At least he didn't rely very much on his cliched use of out of order sequences.....

Christ, Jesus H. said...

Also, pretty sure this guy doesn't get paid to write reviews on Blogger, Sibasish.

Marcelo said...

Why does everyone have to review the movie.. All you have to say is this:

I like it..


Ducky's here said...

....but it's in the same ballpark as his ingenious classics and by far the best World War II film I've ever seen.


Huh? Get out much?

Come and See - Klimov

The Ascent - Shepitko

Ballad of a Soldier - Chukhrai

Rome Open City - Rossellini

Kanal - Wajda

Stalag 17 - Wilder

The Steel Helmet - Fuller

The Burmese Harp - Ichikawa

The Human Condition - Kobayashi

Closely Watched Trains - Menzel

... you kind of get the idea. Tarantino fanboys have a grasp of film history that is as limited as L'il Quentin's.

Benjamin Guilbert said...

just for the sake of it I'd like to continue the list of the WWII movies way better than Inglorious Basterds:

The Army in the Shadows
A Man Escaped
Soldiers of Orange (and to a lesser extent the Black Book)
To Be or Not To Be
Devils on the Door Step
The Cranes are Flying
Lili Marleen (by and WITH R. Fassbinder!!!)
The Battle of the Rails
Four Bags Full
La Vità è Bella
American Military Intelligence and You!
Twelve O'Clock High

And among the less contemplative ones:
Objective Burma
Letters from Iwo Jima
Das Boat
The Thin Red Line
Play Dirty
A Taxi For Tobruk
The Guns of Navaronne

etc etc etc

I. B. is not the best ever by far, it is not even the best WWII film of the decade