I was nervous about seeing Inglourious Basterds because of late, director Quentin Tarantino has been kind of a turn off for me; also the preview looked more violent than even my desensitized action-movie-loving self could stomach. I was pleasantly surprised by a 97% mature, solid, suspenseful, respectful, artistic movie. I’ll go ahead and complain about the 3%, all of which typifies what Tarantino has been doing to keep me away from his movies. He employed his pre-post-ironic random font party titles, metacommentary, severely anachronistic music (no matter how legitimately awesome David Bowie’s Cat People is), and disabled my ability to focus on a key scene with one incredibly distracting casting choice. No, not B.J. Novak (The Office) — Mike Meyers. Now, Mike was great (so was B.J.), and I am glad to see him try his hand at straight acting, but his eyes still sought approval in every take so I still have no idea what that scene was about.
Now: for the rest of it. We’ve seen enough World War II movies to the point that it really is its own genre, with its own shorthand visual language and even clichÃ©s. Tarantino pulls out a strong, tension-filled WWII movie and drapes it over a full-on alternative universe revenge fantasy nearly as over the top as Kill Bill, but with — I have to say it — a ton more class. Tarantino keeps his coolness factor up by casting the always naturally hilarious Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, the backwoods leader of the titular American vigilante group. They kill Nazis, and one must confess, they do it with a style designed to grow their reputation from infamous to legendary. Showmanship was a major skill of the Third Reich, and the Basterds in their own hardscrabble way are fighting fire with fire.
And then there is the delectable Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa. This guy is an amazing and wonderful oozer of charisma, menace, and sociopathic charm. From his first scene, in a farmhouse in France, to his last (I won’t say where), Waltz is a riveting character and a sublime bit of casting. He’s as unpredictable as the weather, and twice as deadly. It’s a delicious and ironic contrast to see his urbane smoothness contrasted with our good guys’ rough, ignorant crassness. Young Nazi wunderkind Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) is well cast too, his face balancing boy-next-door with serpentine.
The plot does not, as the previews would suggest, center around the pillaging exploits of the Basterds, to my relief. Instead we have a confluence of a Jewish cinema owner, a Nazi hero infatuated with her, a British infiltration, and a film premiere. Chapter three is a web of agendas crashing together in an exciting and suspenseful climax. It tickles you and terrifies you in turns. Melanie Laurent is wonderful as the cineaste whose humble venue becomes the epicenter of all the plots of the film.
I was surprised and pleased to be so surprised and pleased by this violent, sophisticated, tremulous, funny movie. It is none of these things alone but a heady mix of all four. One forgets, with all the French and German over 153 minutes, that you’re watching a Hollywood movie at all — until a trademark Tarantinoism pops in to remind you. It’s good.
MPAA Rating R- strong graphic violence, language, & brief sexuality
Release date 8/21/09
Time in minutes 153
Director Quentin Tarantino
Studio Weinstein Company