Saturday, September 12, 2009

Inglourious Basterds (2009)


The lives of 8 jewish soldiers, a french jewish lady in hiding, and an SS Colonel, nicknamed Jew Hunter, all intertwine at the premier of Nazi propaganda film, Nation's Pride, in which Adolf Hitler will be present.

There's no easy way for me to summarize the experience of watching Inglourious Basterds, it's as mixed of an affair as you can possible imagine. So I suppose the easiest way for me to do it is to explain via something that occurred after the film was over:

As I walked out of the movie there were a couple other groups walking out, and while listening in (don't judge me I like to hear other opinions) I noticed something odd occurring. In each group (total of about 3) the general consensus was seemingly confused enjoyment, but what struck me was not that as I was in the same category, but rather that each group only had one person doing all the talking. What was that person talking about? Well that one person was, in point of fact, explaining to the other members what a Quentin Tarantino film really is all about.

I really can't explain it any better. In terms of writing the movie is on par with Pulp Fiction, in terms of execution it falls in somewhere just below Jackie Brown, and make no mistake of it, the movie sings from beginning to end of Tarantino. Something I think even Tarantino wouldn't want, as the movie is quite obviously (from the title of the opening chapter, ala Kill Bill style) a homage to the films of Sergio Leone. The opening sequence brought back memories of the opening scene from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, while the rest of the film is a mix of exploitation films, and Tarantino style.

At times not all of this works as well as Tarantino wrote it too. Some side tours in story feel forced, while the style waves from amazing, to dragging, and back again. The acting ranges from perfection (Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent) to pretty good (Brad Pitt, Eli Roth), and lastly to questionably present (Mike Myers), and just about everything in between. None of it takes away from the experience of watching the film though, and Tarantino knows how to get the most out of his acting talent, even if they are used for only a brief time.

What I really found sad though was the comparatively small amount of time we actually spend with the Basterds. They encompass really only 2 1/2 of the 5 chapters, and their first chapter of introduction is so awe inspiring you almost scream for more. Fortunately though the side story is just as satisfying, occurring simultaneously with the Basterds, is the tale of Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent), a jewish cinema owner, and the sole survivor of her family (who are brutally massacred in the opening chapter), hiding under an assumed name. The Dreyfus dynamic opens up the door to the multi-layered plot, and allows the viewer to really get into the mind of the character, the only character, other than Lando (Waltz) we're really allowed to spend a lot of time with solely.

Another thing I noticed is that with the exception of the maybe 5-6 scenes, much of the film takes place at table side conversations. These conversations drive the character development, the plot, and are often filled with witty Tarantino usual dialogue. I found this fascinating as form of core narrative device, as I've never seen it used so heavily before in such a massive project. I'm not sure it makes the film infinitely better, but it adds a unique dynamic to the film, something I'd like to revisit upon the DVD release, just to see if my visual assessment is right.

As an overall recommendation though, I find it hard to put down exactly how I feel about Basterds. As a work of cinema it's truly an awe to watch, with great writing, and amusingly dark characters to drive the film. Yet as a work of entertainment and story telling it seems to struggle a bit with finding it's footing, wondering back and forth without a single narrative focus established (even the spuratic Kill Bill films established a style of some sort and stuck with it, for the most part).

Really, I think this is one of those movies you can't really say "you're going to love/hate it," you just have to watch it, let it digest for a little while, and see how you feel about it overall. In the end for me, I enjoyed you more than I disliked, I was fascinated more than I was bored, and would watch the movie again if given the chance, so it gets a weakishly strong positive review.

So I recommend you give the film a shot in your own time, just be sure when you do decide to watch it, you're willing to think about a film, not just expect mindless entertainment.

1 better thoughts:

Paolo said...

Excellent review. I personally liked it a bit more, but still good job.

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