Time/place: 1st viewing- 8.21.09 – 12:10 showing at Ocean Ranch 7 (w/Tex) with Korkie, 2nd viewing- 8.29.09 – 12:10 showing at Ocean Ranch 7 with a few people.
Right off the bat, you may have noticed that I saw this movie twice. The second time I even bought a ticket, myself, so you can probably assume what I think of it already. I have never been a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s (the writer/director of this particular picture), purely out of personal taste for style. He’s a talented guy, I just never liked his movies – until now.
When I saw the trailer, it did absolutely nothing to make me want to see Inglourious Basterds. It plays as an overly-stylized, action-oriented movie, which I have zero interest in. So, I joined Korkie in the theater that first day just because she wanted to see it, and I was getting in for free. However, by the end of it I had been won over – I couldn’t believe it! I was as surprised as anyone, but I absolutely loved it. Korkie didn’t share my sentiment, because she thought it was boring and dull, not at all how it was advertised, but that’s exactly why I DID love it. It’s a drama. Inglourious Basterds is a D-R-A-M-A. Of course, when it gets into Blockbuster the yahoo’s there will probably put it in the Action section, but in classic Tarantino fashion, this movie is filled to the brim with dialogue. Basically, it boils down to a series of scenes that are nothing more than conversations. Of course, most of the conversations are conducted in very tense situations, and I thoroughly enjoyed them all. There was no filler, here… everything mattered.
Performances were lovely, save for Eli Roth. There was simply something about his over-acting that was like nails on a chalk board for me. Near the end, though, he has a wonderful moment – but I’ll talk about that in the spoiler section below. The heart of the story, for me, wasn’t even the group of Basterds at all, and the end of the movie has such a great emotionally satisfying pay-off, that I walked out of the theater skipping both times I saw it. It was just a really, really good movie, and if you like slow dramas, great characters, beautiful revenge stories, and anything World War II… get your butt in the theater this week.
The movie’s only hindrance was a couple of moments of Tarantino’s usual over-stylization, although the second time I saw the movie I knew how much I already liked it so they didn’t bother me as much. Really, though, they are out-of-place here – as if he was finally making a mature, straight movie, but couldn’t completely let go of the past. I can’t fault him for it, though, because even in spite of those few moments (and they really are no longer than moments) I loved this movie. Similarly, I did have to look away a few times, as the movie has some gruesome moments… but it still didn’t take enough away from the entire experience to make me dislike it.
Inglourious Basterds is a movie about a group of people fighting Nazis and hoping to end the war – but it’s all the more importantly about a group of people, and it’s beautiful.
Warning: There be spoilers below…
To start the movie, Tarantino puts us on a dairy farm in France in a scene right out of a Sergio Leone movie. In fact, it reminded me immediately of a scene with Angel Eyes from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. What doesn’t hurt this notion is Tarantino’s use of Ennio Morricone’s music throughout the picture. These are scores lifted from previous movies, but he re-purposes them here in wonderful ways. As Basterds opened, I really did feel like I was watching Sergio Leone’s return to cinema. I had heard much about this opening scene, and it is indeed wonderful. It sets a mood of tension that follows through the entire movie. It introduces Christopher Waltz as Col. Hans Lander the “Jew hunter.” Everyone talks about his performance, and it’s fantastic (see the paragraph below), but I have to give special mention to the farmer, played by Denis Menochet. The reason the scene is half as intense as it is, is due to this man’s reactions. We feel his fear and trepidation, and eventually, as he concedes to the Nazi that he is hiding Jews under his floorboards, painful regret.
So, to talk about Chrisopher Waltz’s “Jew Hunter.” Have you ever seen Silence of the Lambs? Remember Hannibal Lector? Yeah – that’s what I’m about to talk about with Hans Lander. He is a character that is so cold and evil, yet so charming and fun to watch, that he will no doubt become a classic movie villain. The character, as well the performance amplifies, is insane. When he hears Bridget von Hammersmark’s (Diane Kruger) reason for why she is wearing a cast, a reason he already knows is a lie, his over-the-top laugh is all at once hilarious, and yet extremely unsettling. The fact that this character’s natural reaction is to be so extreme in sincere laughter is slightly chilling. Also, his later proclamation of “that’s a bingo!” is so flamboyant and big, that I couldn’t help but love him. He is a character that fits right in amongst Gary Oldman’s Norman Stansfield and Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher – calm, manic, and frightening.
As for Quentin Tarantino, himself, he finally made something I can really love. Reservoir Dogs was the closest thing to a straight movie he’s done (i.e. sans too much style), and there are some really great moments in Kill Bill, but there were always too many elements that detracted from the overall movie for me. Again, as I said above – this is purely a sense of taste. With Inglourious Basterds, though, he told a much more grown-up story. I think the subject matter had quite a bit to do with the natural gravity of the movie. The fact that the audience is already aware of what WWII was like, and what Nazi soldiers did with Jews instinctively set up a feeling of fear and tension that Tarantino only had to let simmer for it to be effective… and simmer it does. Over and over again, Tarantino puts people into scenes with Nazis that becomes more and more terrifying with each moment it doesn’t end. Of course, there is humor and cleverness during every scene, but the underlying current is one of fear. This is why the ending climax is so satisfying.
So, how does it all end? Well, it’s a movie about Hitler and WWII, so we all know how that goes, right? Well… not quite ;-). I hadn’t read much of anything about this movie, since I was disinterested in it, so I went in very fresh. What I hadn’t realized was that it’s fairly common knowledge amongst movie-review sites that Tarantino had re-written history. How does he do it? He kills Hitler. The plan succeeds, and he KILLS HITLER! I wasn’t expecting it at ALL, and after 2.5 hours of tension, the good guys constantly having the rug pulled out from underneath them, the plan all comes together and Hitler dies with his cronies. It’s one of the most satisfying movie finales I’ve ever seen. Did it really happen? No, of course not, but it’s one great “what if” to watch. This is where Eli Roth ceased to annoy me. The entire scene is absolutely beautiful, but as he stands there, using a machine gun to fire down upon trapped Nazis in a burning theater (yes… it’s that amazing), his eyes are glassy and I thought it was a wonderful moment to see him in. Of course, that moment wouldn’t have been possible without the wonder that is the highlight of the whole movie for me – the story of Shosanna.
Like I said before, this really isn’t the Basterds’ movie… they’re just along for the ride. The movie is really the story of Hans Lander, as he opens and closes the movie and runs throughout its entirety, and of Shosanna Dreyfus. Played beautifully by Melaine Laurent, without her story this movie would have lost its heart. I heard of a moment in the original script amongst the Basterds that is very touching, but it didn’t make it into the movie, and even still.. it was only a moment. Shosanna, you see, is the daughter of the family that the dairy farmer is hiding in the very beginning of the movie. She is the sole survivor after Hans Lander massacres the rest, and when they coincidentally meet later, the scene is chilling – not just because the audience knows, but because we DON’T know if Lander knows who she is. We’ve seen him be coy and playful, as a cat with a mouse before it devours it, so we can’t know if he is toying with her or not. She holds her composure throughout, and only after he leaves her does she finally react – an emotional break that lasts for just a few seconds before cutting away, but one that every time nearly brings a tear to my eye. It all works out in the end, though, as it is her plan that sets the movie theater on fire (where Eli Roth is gunning down Hitler and other Nazis)… and it succeeds. It is such an emotional scene, for the satisfaction of her character’s personal revenge, for seeing a reversal of horrors played upon Nazis, and for the release of tension that has been building the entire movie that I actually do get teary eyed this time. It is a very powerful scene altogether, from the tearful goodbye of Shosanna to her love before her plan is put into motion, through the exciting moment of two Basterds charging Hitler’s box seat in the theater, to the face of Shosanna projected onto a burning screen as Nazis flee in terror. It’s amazing.
There is so much more to the movie than this, but I have already mentioned so much that I only wanted to hit the most critical points, else I’d have a book to publish :-). Oh, and don’t worry about Hans Lander, he gets away clean in the end… but not without a little farewell reminder from Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine and his knife.
“I think this just might be my masterpiece.” Mr. Tarantino, I agree.