Review: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Quentin Tarantino is known for bending generic conventions, often mixing a hodgepodge of thematic elements into a simmering cinematic experience, but Inglourious Basterds is perhaps his most seemingly nonsynchronous film to date. An action-comedy war epic/revenge story about the Holocaust? Just saying it sounds ridiculous, but trying to pin any easily definable category onto this film is just as fruitless an effort. Instead, discard whatever ideas or preconceptions about the film you may have and just enjoy the ride. Because as ludicrous or schizophrenic as it may sound, Inglourious Basterds is a smart, violent, and intensely thrilling romp through history as only Tarantino could have envisioned it.
Hardly unfamiliar territory for Tarantino, Basterds is a revenge flick at heart, starring a capable and intelligent female protagonist seeking vengeance against the man who has wronged her. But this story is set within a larger revenge tale — one about a ragtag group of Jewish soldiers bringing their share of hell back to the Nazi’s for their crimes during World War II. The focus of the film oscillates between these two missions — as well as various subplots — and for this the movie can feel imbalanced and a little distant at times. We hardly get to spend enough time with the titular Basterds, and a great deal of their endearment to the audience is based solely in the fact that they’re the ones dishing out the blood-splattered retribution so many wish Hitler and his soldiers had gotten. Still, as Pulp Fiction demonstrated, Tarantino is good in a juggling act, and the film has little trouble in remaining absorbing throughout.
The performances are perhaps some of the best we’ve seen all year. The highly-marketed Brad Pitt lays it on thick with his outrageous but utterly entertaining Lt. Aldo Raine. Melanie Laurent almost steals the show as Shosanna Dreyfus, turning in the most emotionally-nuanced performance of the picture. The revelation is undoubtedly Christoph Waltz, though, as his Col. Hans Landa is a brazen and bold mix of creepy, funny, goofy, charming, and complete treachery. He manages to discomfit and subtly threaten in three different languages, and he’s absolutely stunning. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sees a Best Supporting Actor nomination in a few months.
One of the most impressive qualities of Inglourious Basterds is how successfully it blends moods and themes as it moves through its sprawling narrative. Violence-soaked humor can give way to a picaresque Parisian interlude, which in turn can lead to a suspenseful confrontation with a powerful undercurrent of emotion. All of it is taken in stride, and despite the disparate pieces, everything manages to fit together at the end. A lot of this is due to Tarantino’s treatment of war or, more specifically, war movies. Yes, war is violent and heartbreaking and filled with equal mixes of heroism and horror; but it is also completely senseless and incomprehensible. He fully embraces this aspect of war and ultimately pushes it as his main agenda in presenting this film. If we can all agree war is ridiculous, why not portray it as just that? As a result, Inglourious Basterds is an incredibly literate film that has no problem ambling happily into the absurd, and the result is a masterfully crafted and unabashedly entertaining moviegoing experience.
Tarantino’s revisionist telling of history occasionally meanders and is definitely too long. It’s also chock-full of the Tarantino-isms that have polarized his fans and critics his whole career. But it’s also wonderfully thrilling and ridiculously fun — an utter treat to watch. At its worst it’s still competently-made, and at its best it’s uproariously awesome. It has one of the most cheer-inducing climaxes you will ever see. It’s hard to sum up a movie like Inglourious Basterds, but just know that it is absolutely crazy, thoroughly engaging, and one hell of a good time.