Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

 

  • Released Internationally on 19/08/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 26/08/09

 

In a nutshell

Quentin Tarantino brings his unique brand of filmmaking to the enduringly popular subject of World War II.

Take a good story

When Tarantino announced he would be making a war film, I doubt anyone expected a run-of-the-mill telling of some particular aspect of the war. As 2008 showed, the tragic events of over half a century ago offer a rich basis for human drama, both factual (Defiance, Valkyrie) or imagined (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Reader). Tarantino opted for the latter, and has allegedly had this alternative history brewing in his mind since before Kill Bill. The setting may be WW2, but the core of the film is a story of pure vengeance, though this time on a much grander scale than the intimate revenge of The Bride in Kill Bill.

Add a fancy title

The titular Basterds are a rogue squad of Jewish-Americans handpicked by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) for a mission in Nazi-occupied France. The brief is simple - hunt down Nazis, take no prisoners, scalp them, and let word of their cruelty get out so as to terrorise the Reich all the way to the moustached top. Tarantino offered no official explanation for his misspelt title, apart from it being an artistic flourish, so one has to assume it's merely a play on the French pronunciation of this fearsome band's label.

Choose the finest ingredients

Brad Pitt's name and face are understandably plastered all over the promotional material for the film, but by no means is he the only star of this picture. His role as the heroic Raine, leader of the Basterds, provides most of the comedy in the film, and his thick Tennessee accent and black humour serve as a useful counterpoint to the barbaric and graphic nature of his crew's deeds. But there are two lesser-known names that make you sit up and take note. German actor Christoph Waltz is the smiling but ruthless Nazi Hans Landa, ‘the Jew hunter’, in a brilliant performance, not least because of his fluent use of English, French, German and Italian as needed. And French actress Mélanie Laurent gives us a true heroine to root and feel for as the resourceful Shosanna. Looking very much like a French Uma Thurman (Tarantino's frequent collaborator and alleged muse), she stands out as the most vivid and human character in the whole story, and I wouldn't be surprised to see her or Waltz be mentioned come award season. Diane Kruger (Troy) has a smaller but pivotal role as a prominent German actress with wavering allegiances, Mike Myers (Austin Powers, Shrek) has a brief cameo as a British general, and Eli Roth (director of Cabin Fever and Hostel) and B.J. Novak (TV’s The Office) are two of the infamous scalp-hunters.

Add garnish to taste

The director's trademark flourishes are all present here, making this very much a Tarantino tale set in WW2 rather than simply a war movie directed by Tarantino. The main titles are stylistically similar to those of Kill Bill, and the narrative is once again divided into clearly distinct chapters with grandiose storybook titles such as "Once Upon a Time... In Nazi-Occupied France". The storyline is mostly, but not entirely, chronological this time, but it is also punctuated with very brief and often hilarious flashbacks to emphasize certain memories. Plus there's loads of his deft little touches like couples of aggressors staring down at their victims (though not in car boots this time), copious film references, Sergio Leone-style close-ups during stand-offs (even when sitting down) and the good old Wilhelm scream. There's even a snippet of explanatory narration by Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown), and another brief uncredited role for Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), at the other end of a phone line. The graphic violence is also present, as expected, however it comes in a few very short, intense bursts.

Add a generous amount of Morricone

Music is always an integral part of Tarantino's films, and this is no exception. In his early films Tarantino gained a reputation for picking out classic songs which perfectly fit his scenes, and which younger generations could discover thanks to the resultant soundtracks. In Kill Bill and his recent Death Proof, he veered towards selections from classic film scores rather than pop songs, most prominently Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores. The maestro himself was apparently due to provide an original score for Basterds, but had to bow out due to his busy schedule. However many key sequences in the film are scored with selections from his enormous body of work, along with those of other composers and a few songs from various eras. Historical accuracy is secondary here - the music fits each scene like a glove and on numerous occasions adds tonnes of pathos or excitement to the proceedings. Much as I love his earlier music choices, I think these grandiose score cues fit his flamboyant type of filmmaking better, and I hope this trend continues.

Bring to the boil

The excitement is never lacking. It is an often used measure that a good film should provoke feelings in the viewer, whatever feelings those may be. By that yardstick Basterds is a triumph, as from the opening scene is drips with palpable tension and suspense, as even the most seemingly amicable and pleasant of conversations are wrought with the distinct feeling that any second things are going to combust and shots are going to ring out. Each chapter in this chronicle has its own taut climax, and the film benefits hugely from the overall air of unpredictability this alternative history provides. Last year, despite being entertaining, Valkyrie suffered from an inescapable feeling of inevitability, since it was based on fact. Here, anything can happen.

Allow to simmer

Tarantino presented a hurriedly-edited version of his latest fare at the Cannes festival last May, which garnered mixed reviews but heaps of worthy praise for Waltz’s performance. He then had a few more months to fine tune and re-edit the film, before releasing the finished product we see today. Thankfully, he didn’t sacrifice length, because each sequence is wonderful to watch, and the film’s two and a half hours soar past thanks to the chapters and their individual showdowns.

Serve fresh

This is a director still as fresh and enjoyable as he was when he burst onto the scene in the early 90s. A glorious romp of a movie, with heaps of style enhancing, rather than detracting from, the great storytelling and excellent acting.

 

Mark's Mark 9/10

 

Trailer:

http://www.apple.com/trailers/weinstein/inglouriousbasterds/ (High-res QuickTime)

 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:36 am

    Gratuitous violence. Reservoir Dogs was 100% better. Violent yes, but in context of a great story.

    ReplyDelete