Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

When anyone mentions the name Quentin Tarantino, a mélange of words come to mind: extreme, audacious, impudent. But much of his style is modeled after the numerous cult cinema classics and Inglourious Basterds is no exception to this. Tarantino not only has remade the original version of the 1978 film of the same name (only spelled correctly as "Inglorious Bastards"), but he has crafted a true parody on World War II films in general that rings to the tune of The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare and The Great Escape, to name a few. The drastic difference here is that Tarantino distributes an equal amount of screen time between the good and bad guys. Many of the more esteemed war epics often ignore that realm of contradictory regard. So while Tarantino may ignore the factual accounts of the period, he executes a balanced story that enhances the perspective of the enemy, though still diabolical, simply by allowing them face time. He focuses on the story, not just the history. This is precisely why he won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction. And once again, his approach is indeed noteworthy and original, to say the very least.

Sonke Mohring, Til Schweiger & Brad Pitt
Tarantino himself has classified the film as a “spaghetti western, but with World War II iconography” and is essentially his tribute to the broad sub-genre of Euro War or Macaroni War films. The story is divided into five chapters, much in the same methods as Tarantino’s prior works. The film is 2 hours and 33 minutes in length. It’s not so much how long the movie goes on for, as it is how it converges in the end. While there are implications that tie each segment to one another, they could easily have been done as five separate short films. Inglourious Basterds probably would have been a great miniseries for Cinemax or HBO. There just aren’t enough cliffhangers or plot dependencies on each of the storylines. Much of the dialog is redundant and superfluous, particularly that of the Nazis, saved only by the circumstances of the characters. Nonetheless, it is still entertaining in a campy, interminable sort of way.

Denis Menochet & Christoph Waltz
The opening scene of the movie, like all Tarantino films, introduces several key characters and provides the back-story for later chapters. It begins with the simple line “Once upon time… in Nazi occupied France,” alluding to so many fictional tales before it. Here we meet the Nazi “Jew Hunter” Colonel Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz. Landa interrogates a French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) who he suspects of harboring a family of Jews within the confines of his residence. Amidst his vigorous inquiry, Landa asks for a glass of milk. After guzzling it down, he snidely remarks on LaPadite’s daughters and his cows, “à votre famille et à vos vaches, je dis bravo.” Although the literal translation of the word “la vache” means cow, it also has very derogatory connotations attached to it, particularly in the context of women; in French, it is common slang for bitch or cunt. This is a blatant and intentional insult towards La Padite, and he most certainly understands its fool meaning here.

Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa
Waltz turns in a dynamic performance here as
the central antagonist who sets the tone for the entire rest of the film. His very nickname details the obvious passion and efficiency he has for capturing Jews. Waltz creates a character that you love to hate. His Colonel Landa is profoundly knowledgeable on many levels, he is a romantic while still being sinister, and is charming despite his very obvious endeavors to execute anyone who goes against the Nazi credo. Although the part was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio, Tarantino ultimately decided to cast a German actor instead. Tarantino has said that he might be “the greatest character he's ever written” and attributes much of the character’s revered execution to Christoph Waltz himself. “He (Waltz) gave me my movie back,” Tarantino proclaimed. He received the Best Actor Award at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and is almost certain to receive an Oscar nomination come February.

Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine
Brad Pitt is obviously still the headliner of the film, who plays 1st Lieutenant Aldo Raine, who is better known as “Aldo the Apache”. Raine is a raunchy southerner from Tennessee with good ole fashioned ideals: shoot it, stuff it, or marry it. Pitt creates a character fiercely jaded by his days in the Secret Service and weaned on extreme acts of violence. Had this have not been a Tarantino film; Raine would be an unlikely protagonist. However, the very fact that it is a Tarantino film explains how such an unruly vigilante can be the hero. Pitt delivers his lines with a thick southern accent right out of the back woods of Tennessee. “You probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business; we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, Business is a-boomin’.” The character himself is derived from many sources. Tarantino had written him as “a voluble, freewheeling outlaw” and a tribute to Aldo Ray, a relatively unknown actor from such war cult classics as Sweet Savage and Battle Cry, and who was crafted after comedian George Carlin’s Indian Sergeant. Pitt himself revives this parody very well, following in the footsteps of Kevin Kline and Robert Downey, Jr., and fosters a subjugator that even the squeamish can cheer for.

Eli Roth as Sgt. Donny Donowitz
Of the eight men who make up Aldo’s Basterds, probably the most memorable is Sergeant Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth), better known as “Jew Bear”. He is a vivacious, Boston-born Jew whose weapon of choice is a baseball bat. He has single handedly established himself as a legend among the Nazi Party as a ruthless threat of the worst kind and they outright fear him. Before he leaves for Germany, Donny gets every Jew in his neighborhood in Boston to sign his baseball bat with the name of a loved one in the war overseas. And he uses this bat to literally pummel Nazi skulls in. Roth proclaims that there is true irony in this—beating people with baseball bats. He had told Tarantino when he first signed onto the film “Do you realize that everyone in Boston has a baseball bat, and most bats in Massachusetts are used off the field?” Roth embodies the Jew Bear with ardor and vigor, adding a twisted comic relief as Aldo’s right hand man.

Til Schweiger as Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz
Til Schweiger’s performance as Sergeant Hugo Stiglitz is also noteworthy. He crafts a strong, silent & strange psychopath who says very little. Schweiger is able to convey so much through his expressions and mannerisms without ever saying a word. For such a dialog driven script, this an astonishing feat. Stiglitz becomes a Basterd out his own hatred for the Nazis. Aldo had recruits him from the Oberfeldwebel in the Wehrmacht where he killed 13 SS Gestapo majors. The character's name is a tribute to the famous 70s B-movie Mexploitation actor Hugo Stiglitz. Fittingly, the character's guitar riff theme is taken from Slaughter, a Blaxploitation movie starring Jim Brown. The scene in the basement tavern where they are drinking and playing games with Nazi officers, foot soldiers and spies alike, has Schweiger silently glowering and scheming his next move. Til Schweiger is a real gem in the Basterds rank-and-file.

Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus
Although the story presents itself in an angle that everyone is in this position of power, there is distinct ideal of female empowerment here. It is obvious that Aldo and Landa have dominant personalities, the women have a much more beguiling storyline with regards to this. Shoshanna Dreyfus, played by Mélanie Laurent, is a young Jewish girl who is hunted in the very beginning and narrowly manages to escape from Landa. Considering how much a typical Tarantino film bounces around, Shoshanna is probably the closest thing to being the lead character of the entire movie. In fact, Tarantino has said that he had always thought of her as a “main character”. What makes her so intriguing is that she seeks her revenge in a much less conventional way than Aldo’s Basterds and arguably is more successful than they are.

Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark
The other female protagonist is Bridget von Hammersmark, played by Diane Kruger. She is a very well known movie actress who moonlights as a German double agent. Her fame proves to be both an asset and a curse. While it allows her certain liberties that the everyday person, especially a woman, would not have, it also makes more susceptible to excessive attention. And she too, narrowly escapes persecution from the Nazis in her initial rendezvous with the Basterds. While they may not have a lot of direct power, both Bridget and Shoshanna do what they can and finagle their way into getting what they want. They present a certain amount of tension relief for the film that follows in the footsteps of such Shakespearean female protagonists as Lady Macbeth, Cordelia or Portia. Shakespeare cleverly had made his women more authoritative figures than the men, entirely unbeknownst to them, and so too has Tarantino. Although we know from his other films (Kill Bill, Jackie Brown) that female empowerment is a popular theme for him. Bridget and Shoshanna are creatures of patience, which fosters a longevity in their careers as anti-Nazi crusaders.

Though this is not meant to be a historical recap of the war in any way, Tarantino does manage to incorporate the history of the cinema a great deal. He works in a number of references to several German filmmakers, including Nazi Leni Riefenstahl, German silent-film comedian Max Linder and German director G.W. Pabst. And the film that premieres at Shoshanna’s theater is based on an actual movie produced by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

Eli Roth & Brad Pitt
Christoph Waltz’s performance as the “sinister yet poetic pipe-smoking Jew-hunter” is enough of a reason to go see this film. Waltz crafts a Nazi who is right out of our worst nightmares: sophisticated, suave, and sadistic, all at once. He most certainly stole the show, from not just Brad Pitt but from Tarantino. If you have ever watched any of Tarantino’s previous films, you know his style and approach. You can expect the same extremist plot twists and developments with a touch of redemption for all our Jewish brethren. It does come off as a grandiloquence series of scenes, but not quite as collaborative as some of his other film. In the words of Lieutenant Raine, “We just wanted to say we’re a big fan of your work. When it comes to killing Nazis.” It is because of this same regard for Tarantino that one can tolerate this film’s deficiencies and simply enjoy it for what it is—film farce.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: Entertainingly glorifies violence in a way we have not seen in some time.

"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" performed by David Bowie

1 comment:

  1. Waste of time and money. Its a plain boring movie which you should avoid at any cost. The plot was thin and pointless.
    Watch Inglourious Basterds