A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Inglourious Basterds

July 23, 2011

Inglourious Basterds

After watching the new Captain America movie Amanda and I decided we’d like to continue the theme of fantasy films involving Americans defeating Nazis. This movie came to mind because that is exactly what this film is all about. It may appear to be more of a historical action/drama and less of a superhero film than Captain America, but the truth is that Basterds is every bit as fantastic as any comic book movie. It just hides it better. I recall when we watched Quentin’s half of the Grindhous movie – Deathproof – that I described it as a movie that spent a lot of time denigrating and depicting violence done to women, which made both myself and my wife very uncomfortable. This movie, on the other hand, spends a lot of time denigrating and depicting violence done to Nazis, which is something it’s much easier to get behind.

Amanda and I discussed this movie a little before we began our reviews and we agreed that it is somewhat strangely divided within itself. There are actually two main plot lines here that somewhat intersect in the conclusion but which have little do do with each other. One plot is about Shosanna, the last survivor of a Jewish family that has been wiped out by Nazis in occupied France and her plan for vengeance. The other plot is about a group of Jewish American terrorists behind enemy lines bent on causing fear and confusion in the German ranks. In the end, as the climax approaches, it becomes more and more apparent that the little terrorist squad, the Basterds, are the biggest impediment in Shosanna’s competent and well laid plans.

In every way this is clearly a Quentin Tarantino movie. It is full of long scenes that are simply people talking to each-other. Scenes filled with menace and tension where people attempt to appear as though they are civil and friendly. It also is filled with tonal references to the kinds of movie Tarantino enjoys, especially spaghetti westerns. There are several familiar bits of Ennio Morricone music (some of which Tarantino used in Kill Bill as well) in the sound track for example. Indeed the whole film has a sort of reverence for cinema and films, another Tarantino hallmark.

The movie has a very episodic nature to itself, being divided into distinct chapters. I think that contributes to the feeling that this is two different movies doing war with each other. We get powerful, intense scenes such as the prologue (which is fully twenty minutes long) which introduces us to the devilishly intelligent and ever so pleasant “Jew Hunter” Hans Landa. He has been tasked with finding and eliminating any Jews who are hiding in France after the start of the German occupation, and he does so with a completely ruthless efficiency. I’m glad the movie starts out with him because he is the only character in common between the two halves of the film, and because the absolutely stunning performance delivered by Christoph Waltz is the best thing in the whole movie.

After this scene we are introduced to the Inglourious Basterds themselves. They are led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt with a heavy southern drawl, and they are a kind of gruesome comic relief and release valve for all the tension created by the scenes with Landa in them. This movie works in kind of waves – building up a great head of tension, showing us Nazis being heartless and cruel – then releasing that tension by having the Bastards kill some Nazis in the most brutal ways possible. It’s an odd sort of rhythm.

Meanwhile, in the Shosanna plot, she has escaped from Landa and hidden herself in Paris, where she now manages a cinema. A young Nazi sniper, who has just starred in a movie based on his exploits, falls for her and thinks he can win her with their shared love for movies. He convinces Joseph Gobbels, the director of the movie based on him and real life historical figure and Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich, to premier the new film at Shosanna’s theater.

Here Melanie Laurent displays some amazing acting of her own as the hunted and desperate Shosanna. She encounters the heartless bastard who gunned down her family (he offers her strudel) and meets Gobbels. Ultimately she concocts a plan: she will burn down her theater on the night of the premier, killing every high ranking Nazi officer in attendance. Unfortunately for her, the allies have come up with the same plan, and the team they choose to carry it out are the Basterds. Now the Basterds may be great at killing Nazis and sewing fear, but they are not very good undercover operatives. They are, ultimately, the unknown factor that could spoil everything.

Another noteworthy thing about the movie is its multi-lingual nature. It involves dialog in French, German, English and Italian (all of which languages apparently the character of Hans Landa is fluent in.) It’s not often that you see a movie, even a World War II drama, that shows so many people speaking in their native tongue. Especially in a Hollywood picture.

In spite of its uneven pacing and conflicting plots I find that I really do enjoy this movie. Because it has some amazing performances in it. Because it does a great job of building up tension and then using that tension to drive the bloody vengeance that is the key to the film. And because it is every bit as much an escapist fantasy film as Captain America – not terribly concerned with historical accuracy but delivering a thrill that a strictly accurate portrayal couldn’t serve up.

July 23, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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