johnlink ranks INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Coincidentally, I finally saw INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS on the same day that I noticed Silver Screen Serenade is running a nicely conceptualized Resolution blogathon with writers volunteering to write articles on movies perceived to be great that they have yet to see. I considered doing this INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS article for that series, but can you be truly embarrassed to not have seen a movie that is less than five years old? I figure that has to be saved for something truly embarrassing (like, for me, WIZARD OF OZ or SCARFACE). Anyway, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is a movie I’ve long needed to see, if only because Tarantino was the person who first got me interested in film back when I was a young lad digesting PULP FICTION and RESERVOIR DOGS. I finally did, and here is what I thought…


I watched INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) on 1.2.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

In some ways, this is Tarantino at his most sophisticated. In others, it is Tarantino married to style over substance. There are, to be sure, some spectacularly realized career highlights to be found in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. At the same time, there are bits and concepts which don’t work.

Let’s start with what is good.

This is a unique story. The idea of a team of Jewish soldiers brutalizing Nazis would seem to lend itself to KILL BILL pacing with violent scenes coming one on top of another in an effort to trump what we just saw. Instead, Tarantino is methodical, making this movie as much about the threat of violence as the violence itself. We see, really, one or two scenes of the Basterds in action before the climax. Tarantino tells the story in chapters, and some of the chapters includes the title characters in reference only. Instead, this is a story about revenge. We begin with Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the part) terrorizing a family and murdering some folks. One person, young Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) gets away. The movie finds her four years later running a cinema in France. The Nazis want to have a movie premier there, and Landa is the head of security. All of the characters come together in the final chapter for a resolution.

Tarantino gets away with things in a film that no other filmmaker, except perhaps Spike Lee, does. He cuts away from the action to show something unimportant. He pulls the soundtrack like a record player being stopped and interrupts his own movie to have Samuel L. Jackson give a bit of narrative information. He identifies characters by handwriting their names on the film and putting an arrow at them. He gives one, and only one, character a title card like a 70s exploitation flick and shows his background. Not everyone gets this treatment mind you, just the guy Tarantino decides has a cool background.

This is war fantasy, or war as a dream. The violence is brutal and sudden. Historical accuracy is absolutely disregarded. Tarantino is not telling a story about World War 2, but is instead telling a story about some characters and drops them into World War 2 because using the Nazis as bad guys gives him permission to make his good guys as brutal as he pleases. Indeed, much of this movie is about the gray areas of good and bad. Both Landa and head Basterd Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) let an ‘enemy’ go. It is questionable who is more ruthless, with the major distinction being that Landa is killing innocent Jews while Raine is killing soldiers. The ends each side will go to are extreme. The final plot to blow up a movie theater by the Basterds was originally set to go down in a large cinema with, as we learn from the Nazis earlier, plenty of French folks in the seats as well.

Tarantino tweaks his audience here a bit. He offers American on Nazi violence as something to cheer for and root for as an audience. He later shows Hitler and theater full of Nazis laughing at a German film about a German sniper picking off Allied soldiers. Slyly, he shows Hitler in the same light as the people he has invited to laugh at his own film’s display of violence. This is not to say that Tarantino is actually condemning the very violence he shows, he revels in the joy of it far too much for that to be the case, yet it can easily be stated that INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is, in part, a film about the way we consume violent movies.

The bit roles are both fun and powerful. Mike Myers shines in a single serious scene. Michael Fassbender nearly steals the show in his couple of scenes. Eli Roth, somehow, turns out to be a solid character actor. Pitt is fun doing the serio-comic thing here and it works. The female participants, both Laurent and Diane Kruger, are solid characters given tough conclusions. Laurent, especially, is a stand in for Uma Thurman as Tarantino’s muse here. He shoots Laurent with the care and patience and love he shows Thurman throughout his canon. Most of all, Waltz earns the hell out of that Oscar he received. He is an absolute force on screen, providing the scary humor that makes him a loathed character which the audience just can’t wait to get back on screen over and over again.

Lastly, in the successful column, this movie is wonderfully paced. No other major American director makes films with so much dialogue in such long scenes. Even further, very few are willing to do so in other languages with subtitles being more prevalent than English. The long, tension filled scenes are a throwback to that ’70s slow’ style Tarantino grew up on. Character is revealed through dialogue and revelations are allowed to be dragged out rather than quickly shown and forgotten. The opening scene is perfect cinema. The tavern basement scene is a beautifully constructed marriage of script and acting and filmmaking. So much of this movie nails things so perfectly.

So what does not work as well?

The major issue is probably the lack of resolution between Shosanna and Landa. After that great opening scene, and a second scene in a restaurant, we never get that pay off. Without giving anything away here, Landa never finds anything out about Shosanna at all, and that is unfortunate.

The coincidental nature of the two plans coinciding at the exact same moment in the final scenes are also, perhaps, the moment when campy happenstance overtakes solid filmmaking. What is that rule in the list of Pixar writer dos and don’ts? A coincidence to get characters into trouble is good. A coincidence to get characters out of trouble is cheating. The climax feels like the latter. Truly, most of the issues of this film, then, come in the final chapter.

For all the awesome moments, and for all the typically snappy dialogue, and for all the wonderful characters, this also feels like a film that may not be as good as the sum of its parts. I walk away feeling entertained, but not as blown away as I thought I might. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is not on par with PULP FICTION in terms of fulfilling ever single hope, but it is not far off. BASTERDS may be a movie which gets better with multiple viewings. Fortunately, it is much more than good enough to warrant that.





~ by johnlink00 on January 3, 2014.

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