Friday, September 4, 2009

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

(To hear the radio version, please click here).

Tarantino movies are glorifications of morally complicated and wounded badasses who can take care of themselves – with many exacting revenge upon their tormentors. His latest, Inglorious Basterds, is no exception.

Now, morally complicated does not necessarily mean the characters are sitting around discussing the implications of their actions – though they certainly did that in Pulp Fiction.  The soldiers in Inglorious Basterds are not saddled by such considerations.  They’re killers, Jewish Nazi killers, continuing a movie trend of portraying Jews as aggressors rather than victims (Munich, Defiance, Don’t Mess with the Zohan), Tarantino reimagines a WWII where a crack group of Jewish-American soldiers are set behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied France where they proceed to kill every Nazi they see.

Now understand, this movie rewrites history and does it unapologetically.  It’s a fantasy of would’ve, could’ve, should’ve-s.  To me, it’s not unlike Rambo going back to Vietnam (had only the gubn’t stayed out of the soldiers way), or a group of highschoolers fighting back Russian and Cuban armies in Red Dawn (Americans know how to fight right out of the womb!), except it addresses, my god the cajones on Quentin, the holocaust.   It’s pop culture’s way, I suppose, of dealing with the greatest crime against humanity in the history of humanity. Perhaps we could’ve shortened the holocaust and ended the Third Reich if only we had set upon the Gerries a group of killer American Jews under the guidance of a part Apache Tennessee Mountain man.  If only.

Another thing about Tarantino’s films, and it’s nothing new, it’s something we already know, but warrants a repeat. His films are very, very violent. And the violence is depicted very, very graphically. His target for abuse this time out - foreheads.  On many instances, when you expect the camera to pull away (like the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs), it doesn’t.  So be forewarned.

But really, it’s not the violence itself that sets Quentin’s movies apart. It’s the promise of violence that hangs over every quotable conversation. And boy, are there conversations. 15 minute long conversations.  The opening scene in the French countryside and a scene depicting a spy rendezvous in a bar are particularly noteworthy.  The thing is, you know the conversation is going to go downhill. You know it isn’t going to end well.  You just don’t know when.  It is an exquisite tension that can make the most mundane of chats fraught with danger. Only Tarantino does this; only Tarantino can keep you on the edge of your seat watching a person drink milk.

The performances are outstanding all the way around.  The standout, the one to watch at Oscar time, is Christopher Waltz, as the SS officer in charge of rounding up the Jews in France. It is as chilling a depiction of gleeful evil I’ve ever scene.  Also on the screen for all too short of a time is German actor Til Schweiger’s who portrays former SS soldier Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz. I won’t tell you why so much as he left the movie with me wanting more. Mélanie Laurent plays a Jewish cinema owner in Paris with pain and intelligence. Tarantino loves his women characters and, given his type of movie, provides good meaty roles and great direction for his female players.  I wish the other action movie directors in male dominated Hollywood would take note - though calling this film an action film is like calling the Space Shuttle a water rocket.

If you have the stomach for it, I highly recommend Inglorious Basterds. I’ll give it 3.5 out of 4 stars. It’s playing at the Glacier Cinema at 4 and 7:30PM.

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