' Cinema Romantico: Inglourious Basterds

Monday, August 31, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

If you are seeking a history lesson on the subject of World War II I suggest taking a trip to the nearest Borders, or perhaps Barnes & Noble, and seeking out the section labeled: World War II. If, however, you are in the mood for an extravagant re-imagining of that time and place, a movie that not only explicitly refers to and resembles old World War II films but uses them as a crucial plot point, then, by all means, plant yourself in front of a screen showing "Inglourious Basterds". The latest opus from mad genius Quentin Tarantino is not perfect but it is also never not interesting and almost always entertaining.

Like the "Kill Bill" movies, Tarantino presents "Inglourious Basterds" in chapters. Chapter One tell us: "Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France." Here we meet our obligatory Nazi villain, Col. Hans Landa, (a fantastic Christoph Waltz, who, because I avoided every single review and article regarding this movie over the last few weeks, I learned today is garnering Oscar buzz), the "Jew Hunter", the most pleasantly sadistic villain in movie history, who chats up a French dairy farmer for quite some time, over a glass of milk, who he suspects, correctly, is harboring Jews beneath the farmhouse floorboards. Only one of the Jews manages to escape. Her name is Shosanna (Melanie Laurent, resembling a less hoity-toity Scarlett Johansson).

She moves on to Paris where we catch up with her later, using a, shall we say, alias, as she has become the prioprietor of a cinema left to her by an aunt and uncle. A young and very famous Nazi sniper (Daniel Bruhl) takes a shine to her and works his charms - well, sort of - as he enlists her cinema to screen the world premiere of the Joseph Goebbels (ah, Goebbels) approved film based on his exploits, "Nation's Pride". (Was anyone else hoping to see Tarantino's take on Leni Reifenstahl? I was. Alas, it was not to be.) Shosanna agrees but only because she plans to burn the f---er down and take all the high ranking Nazis inside down with it.

I'm sorry. Was that last sentence harsh? It's nothin' compared to the basterds of the title, the third piece of this elaborate cinematic triangle, a special force put together by good ole southern boy Lt. Aldo Raine (a wonderful Brad Pitt, totally in his wheelhouse, with a hilarious accent and brilliant line readings - "We got a Nazi wantin' to die for country. Oblige him.") with one mission and one mission only - "Killin' Nazis." They are dropped behind enemy lines, disguised as local folk, and become legendary, even with the Fuhrer himself as they do not simply off Germans but also scalp them and sometimes allow the so-called "Bear Jew" (Eli Roth) to bash German heads in with a baseball bat.

Eventually the basterds become part of the plot to assassinate the Nazis at the same cinema with significant aid from a significant Nazi spy, a famous actress named (oh, I love this) Bridget Von Hammersmark (a suitably sultry Diane Kruger).

The first thing you will notice about this movie is the length of the scenes. Tarantino employs so-called setpieces left and right and seems determined to revel in them for as long as humanly possible. The old filmmaking adage is to enter a scene after it gets interesting and get out before it stops getting interesting and I suppose Q.T. follows that adage here but, man, a lot gets packed in between the two. But it's not simply the filmmaker indulging himself. These scenes are crafted with such extended running times to build, in some cases, almost unbearable tension. For instance, the sequence when Kruger's starlet meets with an English General (Michael Fassbender, who gets another one of those extended scenes earlier with Mike Myers, playing British, who is over the top but not any more than any actor ever has been in a black & white B WWII movie) disguised as a German officer in a basement tavern goes on and on and on and on and - suddenly! it devolves into a lightning quick, explosive release of all the apprehension and then poof....it's over.

Unfortunately, a couple scenes just feel long as opposed to nerve-wracking. The film is two-and-a-half hours and it could have used just a little trimming. The handful of voice-overs are totally uneccessary and most of the brief flashbacks are not just superfluous but a little boring. A tad more background on the basterds might have been nice, too. Not that it would have added "depth", per se, but because I think it just would have been darn fun to see.

If anything, this all reinforces the notion that a Tarantino movie is as much about moviemaking itself as it is about story. Hitler and Goebbels are cartoons and concentration camps are never overtly addressed because, hey, how many times do I have to say it? It's a TARANTINO movie. If you are attending his latest feature in the hopes of mining for real emotions, well, just what do you think you're doing? That's not how it works. Never has been.

"Inglourious Basterds" is a fantasyland. In a way this movie has arrived 70 years too late. It should have been an American WWII propaganda film. It may have been nice for all those American troops on the various frontlines around the globe to watch this, nod and smile and think, "If only...."

2 comments:

Rory Larry said...

All the Nation's Pride footage was shot by Eli Roth, so the best you could have hoped for was Eli Roth's take on Leni Reifenstahl.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Is that right? "Nation's Pride" did feel suspiciously like an Eli Roth film.