Thursday, September 17, 2009

The (In)Glourious Basterds

Yet another late post. Sorry. I was in South America and/or moving for most of the last month. But I was able to catch Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds when I returned. And I was definitely glad I did. I should admit. I'm a huge Tarantino fan. I think the man creates some of the most memorable movie scenes (see Kill Bill 2's "The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz," Reservoir Dogs' earless torture scene, and Pulp Fiction's "I accidentally shot Marvin in the face" scene) of recent memory. And conversations (see Pulp Fiction's closing conversation in the diner and the "Royale with Cheese" conversation and True Romance's conversation between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper) in his movies have a strange ability to capture an audience like few writers can.

Basterds (by the way, Tarantino has no explanation for the title's strange spelling) is no exception. In fact, it may be Tarantino's best written work to date. Of course it should be since it took him 10 years to write. But it was definitely worth the wait. The opening scene, "Chapter One: Once Upon A Time... In Nazi Occupied France," is one of the best he's ever created. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the movie, including the film's finale and a palpable-tension-filled confrontation between undercover allied forces and German soldiers in a tavern basement, are just as brilliant, and, despite their Tarantino trademark gore, are really beautiful to watch.

The cast is perhaps Tarantino's strongest since Pulp Fiction. Brad Pitt is surprisingly hilarious as Lt. Aldo "The Apache" Raine. And his character's attempts at speaking Italian are sure to please. Eli Roth (of Hostel fame) also shines as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, a Jewish soldier who uses a baseball bat as his weapon of choice. Referred to by German soldiers as "The Bear Jew," Roth's Donowitz is greatly feared throughout the German ranks. Notable performances also include Melanie Laurent as a young Jewish-French theater owner who is on the run after witnessing the murder of her parents and Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark, a famous German actress working as a spy for the allies.

But the best performance of the movie is almost undoubtedly Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, "The Jew Hunter." From the moment he steps on the screen, he becomes that character that you absolutely love to hate yet can't imagine the movie being without. He plays a smooth talking, well educated, and awkwardly charming German officer who earned his nickname for obvious reasons. Tarantino reportedly wanted Leonardo DiCaprio for the role, but after seeing this movie, it's difficult to imagine anyone other than Waltz (whose performance was rewarded with a Best Actor award at Cannes) in Landa's shoes.

Bottom line: If you aren't turned off by all the gore (which is actually not that bad in this movie when compared to other Tarantino films), you should absolutely check this movie out. A must see (especially for any Tarantino fan). (A)

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