Monday, 4 January 2010

Bon Jorno.

Yes, I know that is not how you spell the Italian, but bear with me.

We all love to love and hate Quentin Tarantino. Few major directors manage to maintain the profile and acclaim he has whilst pissing off so many people. Reading reviews of his films, I never really seem able to determine if the writer felt it was good or bad. There is a grudging respect for this enfant terrible of the Hollywood system even as many people decide they don’t like his films.

I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure what I feel about him either. On the one hand, I do believe I love Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bill duo, but on the other hand, there are so many things about them that truly just shit me to tears. I think it is his incredible knowledge of film history and styles, and his unnerving penchant for referencing so much that has come before him. It is uber-conscious filmmaking, and that is something that is generally so distancing for an audience.

What sets Tarantino apart, however, from other directors who attempt this level of derivation is that his films are so damned fun. They’re generally very entertaining, well constructed, with great casts and stunning visuals. Inglourious Basterds (it is SO hard to type that title out without misspelling it - that is, without correcting the spelling to make it correct) fits neatly into his oeuvre, though I feel that his own neurotic referencing tendencies are subdued, to probably make this one of his most generally palatable films, even if it isn’t the best. 

The Inglourious Basterds of the title are a ragtag mix of Jewish American soldiers fighting Nazis during the second world war, led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt.) The mission apparent in this film is to destroy a premiere screening of the new Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) propaganda film in Paris, where much of the glitterati of the Nazi party will be present, including our dear friend Adolf himself. The employ the help of Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a German superstar actress working as a secret agent for the Nazis, though they don’t realise that the owner of the cinema Shosanna Dreyfuss (Melanie Laurent), a Jew who escaped the murder of her family earlier in the war and has now assumed a new identity, has hatched a similar plan, unknowingly helped by a German soldier, Pvt. Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) who has developed quite an infatuation for her.

That is the dominant plot-line here, which interestingly doesn’t really feature any description of the standout performer Christoph Waltz, who plays SS agent Col. Hans Landa with an uncanny ability to sniff out and kill Jews and traitors - his performance is netting him every supporting actor award going at the moment. 

Needless to say there is a hell of a lot more going on in this film (it does go for two and a half hours, after all, which says nothing for the fact that our darling Tarantino loves convoluted and interlocking multi-narrative stories), but that is the primary crux. Along the way there are graphic scalpings, beating deaths with baseball bats (courtesy of Eli Roth), incredible gunfights in very small spaces (involving the amazing Michael Fassbender playing a British soldier joining the Basterds undercover), and just general terrific fighting sequences - Tarantino has proven himself more than proficient with this element before, though it is much less stylised and much more dramatically effective than the almost comic scenes in this regard in, for example, his Kill Bill films.

But more than this, the storyline is cohesive and coherent, the performances are all solid (Pitt does well, though he never seems to really put his back into it - though, it looks like he’s not putting his back into it, and that suits the character, so maybe he put his back into it much more than one might initially suspect.) Bruehl and Fassbender and long term loves of mine, and they are terrific, and Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger and both exceptional in their very different roles. The film looks superb courtesy of Robert Richardson (who also shot the Kill Bills), and the production and costume designs are absolutely exquisite. The blood-work is very realisitic, and props to the film for pulling that off on such a mammoth scale.

Inglourious Basterds is an exceptional film, worth the slog, and worth checking out if you have derived even the slightest inkling of enjoyment from Tarantino films in the past - you could find yourself pleasantly surprised. 4.5 stars.

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