Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglourious Basterds review

After years in development, Quentin Tarantino's self-described masterpiece, Inglourious Basterds, finally arrives in theaters. Despite the negative reviews of his Grindhouse project, Death Proof (2007), and although mainly positive, mixed reviews of Kill Bill (2003/2004), is Tarantino able to deliver a film that truly outshines his previous works? Well, look's like yer 'bout to find out...

Much like his previous films, Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997), Inglourious Basterds story is split up into chapters, with each one following a different character (though sometimes this overlaps, much like said films). But unlike Pulp Fiction, Basterds' five chapters are linear, in similar vein to Kill Bill; there's an occasional flashback, but no chapters run out of order.

As for the film it self, the plot centers on two parallel stories which take place in Nazi-occupied France, each about revenge upon the Nazis. The main one, in my opinion at least, is that of Shoshana Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) a French-Jewish girl who manages to escape during the murder of her family in 1941. The other is that of Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his unit of Jewish-American soldiers a.k.a. The Basterds, who, in 1944, are looking to kill every Nazi they see, and mark those of which they choose to live. The film basically goes back and forth with each story, with both stories culminating in the fifth and final chapter of the film, which really made the movie for me. If Chapter Five wasn't as great as it was, I don't think I would have enjoyed Inglourious Basterds as much as I did.

But, as is the case with most big Hollywood films these days, the promotional footage for Inglourious Basterds differs somewhat from the final film. It's mainly due to Tarantino's signature filming style, by having chapters from different perspectives; but despite Brad Pitt being the focus of everything, there's a good... 2/3 of the film I'd say that he's not even in. It didn't make me not like film, as I personally avoided trailers and clips until after I saw the film, but I'm sure those of you looking for a Pitt-centric film may be disappointed.

However, for me, the fact that it wasn't all about Brad Pitt's character of Aldo Raine, as amusing as he was, made the film that much more enjoyable, for myself at least. The standout cast member by far was Christoph Waltz as the sinister yet awkwardly amusing Hans Landa, a.k.a. "The Jew Hunter", his stern demeanor clashes quite well the rest of the cast, specifically Brad Pitt's hillbilly portrayal, and Mélanie Laurent's seemingly innocent but full of hate character of Shoshana. The Basterds gang itself has a couple hits and misses, I really enjoyed seeing Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz, a Nazi murdering madman. Though, Eli Roth, who seemed to get more promotional attention than deserved, didn't really convince me with his character's nickname of "The Bear Jew".

Rounding out the cast were the rest of the Basterds gang, none of which were ever too import to remember their names (which honestly made me wonder why they get the title of the film), Diane Kruger as a German actress who double-crossed her homeland, Michael Fassbender as a British spy, and some Tarantino regulars who have bit parts (some you won't even see, I'll leave it at that). Weirdest casting by far though, is Mike Myers as a British General. Much like Tyler Perry's inclusion in Star Trek, when I saw him on screen it was like, "What the hell is he doing here?", and I'm not only one, as the audience seemed to react the same way both (yes, both) times I saw the film.

What really surprised me about the film was just how well Tarantino's signature "cool" style translated from his usually modern settings, to World War II-era Nazi France. And it wasn't just in the way the the movie was filmed, or the chapter divides with different points of view, or even the more than stellar soundtrack (both modern and fitting of the period), but the dialog and character interaction. Despite most of the film actually being spoken in German and French, the way Tarantino handles his characters and dialogue is like no other, and about twenty minutes into the film, you'll know exactly what you've gotten into... judging that you've actually seen his previous work.

Overall, I'd like to think that Inglourious Basterds is right up there in the ranks with Tarantino's arguably best film, Pulp Fiction. At first glance, it doesn't seem like something he would do, but in motion, as a whole, it seems like it's the film that he was meant to make from the beginning, but instead he just waited for the right people and right time to release the film. And I must say, as a fan of his film, it was pretty damn worth. In fact, this is the film I actually wanted to watch twice before reviewing it, not because I couldn't understand it, but because it was just that good.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

I'll be honest, I really debated whether or not Inglourious Basterds really deserved the Seal of Approval. It's an award I personally like to save to under the radar media that is above and beyond stellar, and when it comes to a Tarantino film, it's not really "under the radar"... it's quite above it actually. But upon two viewing of the film within a twenty-four hour period it hit me, the more I thought about the film, the more I realized just how much I really enjoyed it. And if that doesn't matter, I don't know what does. If you can handle the gore/language, or just want to see something truly different, you have to see this movie.

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