I just saw a screening of Quentin Tarantino's new film, Inglourious Basterds, Friday night. I'm not covering the film for my usual outlets, but after what I saw, I couldn't resist the urge to put my two cents in. I know this is a pretty bold statement, but rarely have I ever been as satisfied with a film as I was with this one. That is not to say there aren't any issues, but I left feeling like I had a giant bowl of cheese and noodles. Not the fanciest dish on the menu, but more satisfying than a little salad or an over-sweet desert. (This will teach me to review on an empty stomach.)
The film is quintessential Quentin, with kick ass women, titles flashing across the screen, and multiple story lines that resolve into one. And violence. Brutal, unapologetic violence. Anyone who's read my reviews knows that this is certainly no issue for me. My unpopular philosophy is that not everything needs to be child-friendly. But that's an issue for another time. My point here is that you should know what you're going to see. No matter what praise I heap upon this film, heads are bashed in with baseball bats and people are brutally murdered. If that's not your thing, don't send me hate mail. You were warned.
The cast of Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino won't reveal why the title is misspelled) takes place in WWII, in Nazi-occupied France. A young Jewish girl, Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) is the only survivor when Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) shoots her entire family in their hiding place under the floor boards of a neighbor's house. She changes her identity and flees to Paris where she becomes the owner of a cinema. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) forms a group of Jewish soldiers who's sole purpose is to strike fear into the hearts of Nazi soldiers by killing them in imaginatively brutal ways. Scalping is a particular favorite. They plan a meeting with German actress/secret agent Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) to carry out a plan to take down the entire Third Reich in one fell swoop...in a cinema. In Paris. Where someone else is planning revenge of her own.
The dialogue is continually compelling. Quite a feat for a film with half the dialogue in French or German subtitles. And the cast is strong across the board. Brad Pitt, horror writer/director Eli Roth, Samm Levine from Freaks and Geeks (being a geek myself, I can't help but bring that one up), narration by Samuel L. Jackson and a cameo from Mike Myers. And an international cast that includes compelling performances from Laurent, Kruger and Waltz, who is so charmingly slimy as Colonel Landa that you can't help but admire his cleverness while wanting to shoot him in the head. Pitt's performance as Aldo Raine is so funny, you wonder why the man never went into stand up. Oh, right. He's incredibly hot. Sorry. Truly, there wasn't a weak link among them. Particularly notable was Laurent, who continues the tradition of kick ass chicks in Tarantino films. I don't believe she spoke a word of English and yet her work was one of the best performances I've seen this year.
Melanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus
Inglourious Basterds is presented in chapters. And each one takes you on a different emotional ride. Really different. The film opens with one of the most deliciously tension-filled scenes in recent memory, with Colonel Landa slowly questioning a French dairy farmer about whether or not he has knowledge of Jews hiding in the area. I found myself dragged into the story, wrapped up in the tragedy of it...and yanked right back out by Pitt's hysterical accent and dry delivery. And that, I believe, is why the film is so satisfying. The phrase "I laughed, I cried" couldn't be more accurate. It was a beautifully crafted emotional roller coaster which left me with no idea where I would end up. Tarantino takes you from a foreign film style to Kill Bill gallows humor, from film noir to slasher flick, and I enjoyed the journey.
A few little flies in the honey pot. Occasionally I found myself thinking that a few of the shots where a character's name is written across the screen with an arrow pointing them out could have been cut. The film is very long, and I probably shouldn't have had that giant bottle of water before I went in. A friend pointed out that the David Bowie song during one of the pivotal scenes may have been a bit too modern and out of place, though I've heard opinions on both sides of that argument. And there were a number of characters who seem to disappear without explanation. But whatever little flaws it has, if you are a fan of this style of film, you won't be any more surprised than I was to hear a chorus of "Wow" and "That was amazing" when the film is done. (You certainly won't be surprised by the number of times someone in your row trips over your feet on the way to the bathroom.) For a theater full of critics, there was an unusual amount of applause.
I'm aware that Tarantino's style is not for everyone. And the violence is definitely intense. But I haven't been more entertained by an action flick this year. And considering the number of explosion-filled robot movies, that's saying quite a bit.
Fun fact: Samm Levine, who plays PFC Gerold Hirschberg also plays the artist painting a mural of Hitler during the first scene in the Nazi war room. (uncredited)