Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Inglourious Basterds

Year: 2009
Running time: 153 minutes
Certificate: 18
Language: English, German, French, Italian
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Cristoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Daniel Brühl, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, Jacky Ido, Omar Doom, August Diehl, Denis Ménochet

Sgt. Donowitz (Eli Roth) and Lt. Raine wreak bloody
One thing that has always stood out in the movies of director Quentin Tarantino is the dialogue. From the argument about tipping in Reservoir Dogs, to the monologue about Superman near the end of Kill Bill, via Pulp Fiction’s discussion on the merits of bacon, Tarantino’s writing has a knack of turning practically any subject into an engrossing scene. There are three dialogue scenes in Inglourious Basterds that top anything written before. The first comes right at the opening, where we first meet famed Nazi Col. Hans Landa (Cristoph Waltz), nicknamed The Jew hunter. Arriving at the house of French family man Perrier LaPadite (Denis Ménochet), he clearly makes the man very nervous. It is soon established that LaPadite is hiding Jews in his cellar. The conversation stretches on agonisingly, covering mundane subjects, such as the quality of LaPadite's milk, slowly bringing us to breaking point. The way this scene is put together by Tarantino’s writing and directing, as well as Waltz’s remarkable delivery (more so even than Samuel L. Jackson, the man seems born to deliver Tarantino's lines - see Django Unchained for further evidence) is an absolute masterclass in creating tension and forms an unforgettable opening. When the expected slaughter finally takes place, leaving only Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) alive, blood-spattered and running for her life, it is almost a relief to be able to breathe again. That Tarantino repeats the trick twice more equally effectively during the rest of the film is the strongest testament so far to the man’s extraordinary gift for writing and directing.

If you know anything about me, you'll know that I do sometimes have reservations about trivialising the Nazi treatment of Jews for the sake of entertainment, and it wasn't without reservations that I fired up the DVD for the first time (sadly, I didn't catch this at the cinema). I've written before, for example, about the unpleasant taste Life is Beautiful leaves in my mouth. The same could be said, although to a lesser degree, about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, or Ben Elton's novel Two Brothers. A big difference is the hateful whimsy with which Life is Beautiful treats this most devastating period of human history, while The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Two Brothers make no bones about the true horror of the holocaust. Inglorious Basterds is, like Indiana Jones, so gloriously bonkers and executed with such panache, that it is able to remove you from the distressing truth of the time and place in which it is set. While I am aware this proves me to be somewhat of a hypocrite, it has been noted that I am no stranger to my awareness of my own hypocrisy.
Shosanna prepares for war.

Shosanna manages to escape with her life and, hiding her Jewish descent from the occupying Nazis, becomes the proprietor of a small cinema in Paris, where she has to fight off the unwelcome attentions of Nazi war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl). Zoller is the hero of the latest Nazi propaganda movie and, drawn to Shosanna, convinces the top brass to hold the premiere at her little cinema. Unable to resist the temptation, Shosanna begins to plot vengeance for her murdered family.

Also planning to wreak bloody vengeance is a small company of Jewish soldiers calling themselves the Basterds, led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) tasked with bringing down on the Nazis the worse possible hell they can imagine, realised in all its brutal glory by Tarantino’s most violent effort to date. I know the director has always had a reputation for violence, but until Kill Bill, most of it was mere suggestion, the gory details usually off-camera. Kill Bill itself was more like cartoon violence, but Inglourious Basterds truly makes you shudder at times.

The news of the premiere soon comes to the ears of the Basterds, and they hatch their own plot to use the opportunity to take out some high-ranking Nazi officials, setting everyone on track for the inevitable climactic collision course. A planned meeting in a bar in a cellar that goes dreadfully wrong forms the film’s centrepiece and the build-up to the explosive violence forms another of those dialogue-heavy scenes that make for almost unbearable tension (the third being a scene in which Shosanna comes face to face with Landa in a classy restaurant.) The Basterds go in undercover, posing as German soldiers to plot with famous German actress and secret Allied sympathiser Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). By pure coincidence there is a member of the Gestapo, Major Hellstrom (August Diehl) drinking in the same bar, who sees through the Basterds and their disguise. The Basterds are left in disarray after this, but the news that not only Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), but also one Adolf Hitler (Martin Wuttke) himself will be attending the premiere gives them a new-found urgency and they resolve to push ahead with the plan even with the dramatically reduced odds of its success.
"That's a bingo!"
Tarantino’s gift for unexpected yet perfect soundtrack choices makes itself known again, with some slow-burning shots of Shosanna before the premiere set to David Bowie’s Cat People setting the scene for the insane climax. And believe me, insane is the word. When the teaser trailer announced ‘You haven't seen war until you’ve seen it through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino’ it truly was not kidding. Historically accurate this ain’t.

Every cast member gives a fine performance, but it is without doubt that it is Laurent and especially Waltz who distinguish themselves the most, the former portraying Shosanna with a striking blend of world weariness and barely hidden white hot fury at those who have persecuted her people and murdered her family, and the latter giving Landa traits that make him detestable and yet oddly likable. For a Nazi.

Completely brilliant, and exactly what you’d expect from a Tarantino World War II movie.

Score: 9/10

Perhaps not entirely unexpectedly, Inglourious Basterds tends to split critical opinion: Peter at The Guardian's cerebral and well-considered opinion is pretty much the complete opposite of mine (what thrilled me, bored him), but, as usual, Chris at Empire is more on my wavelength.