One word struck me bluntly across the back of my head about thirty minutes in: dialogue. Inglourious Basterds won me over with everything it had to offer; the kicker was the engaging, thoughtful dialogue. I was once told if I cared so much about dialogue I'd be better off leaving film and going into radio. Needless to say I was appalled. Lucky me Quentin Tarantino provides the finest examples of dialogue's importance time and time again.
All of his films carry a certain special magic in the character interactions; Basterds goes not just the extra mile with that, it goes all the way to the moon and back. The level of tension, humor and horror stem from the dialogue, and blossom explosively across the screen. I could hug it I liked it so. Favorite dialogue-heavy portions of Basterds include the opening sequence, a sequence in a restaurant, and a sequence in a basement/tavern. It wasn't the bullets and blood that drove this, it was the carefully placed words.
What dialogue would be worth anything without actors to dish it out? The talent in Basterds is strongest in its writing, and its acting. Massive piles of buzz surround Christoph Waltz and his portrayal of "The Jew Hunter" Hans Landa, and it's earned in full. Some speculate he'll be up for a Best Actor nomination, and I'd push for him to win the award twice. He was very, very good. Calculating, cruel, but human at the center of his black heart. Without a doubt my favorite performance of the film.
Brad Pitt as Aldo Raine is entertaining, his Nazi-bashing quips and wartime tomfoolery giving a healthy dose of humor, but Pitt's ham-filled performance is lacking nothing but subtlety and nuance. They're supposed to be missing, sure, but it'd have been nice to see them. No need to worry, though, because Melanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus) playing the admirable revenge-minded Jew-in-hiding, Michael Fassbender (Archie Hicox) starring as a charming but obviously British Basterd ally, and the rest of the Basterds more than taking up the slack that Pitt may provide. Smaller roles like Sylvester Groth as Joseph Goebbles and Jacky Ido as Shosanna's lover Marcel were equally strong, and Daniel Bruhl (Fredrick Zoller) leaping between cute, annoying and deplorable was quite excellent.
Tarantino has always been praised for his soundtracks, and I never gave this much thought until Basterds. Excluding an almost poorly chosen David Bowie sounding like Johnny Cash track the music, anachronistic as it is, fits seamlessly, and helped keep the more jarring hard cuts from taking the audience out of the picture. I've heard the film criticized for sloppy editing. I disagree. Tarantino is no slouch, and intends exactly what is seen.
Speaking of what is seen, Robert Richardson's photography kicks about as much ass as the Basterds. From cold colors to flaming theatres and laughing faces stretched across smoke Richardson captures it all crisply and handsomely. Wide angles dropping off into out-of-focus haze, sharp close-ups of delicious desserts, all magnificently on display.
Story and action/violence don't take a back seat in Basterds as much as I'm making them out to. The story is compelling and mapped out masterfully, I thought. The action sequences are nearly too much to bear. In a particularly tense scene involving a finger and a bullet wound I found myself writhing uncomfortably in my seat. Even when the violence is played for laughs it certainly doesn't downplay how terrible it is and drives home hard the horrors of war. Until the last moments of the film, that is, in which we're supposed to revel at a theatre full of Nazi's being massacred.
Revel I did. Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is my favorite film of 2009 thus far, and I don't think its going to drop very far from that position come the end of the year. Bravo for rewriting World War II the way we wish it had gone. See it.
- Eric T. Voigt, Nazis Are the Worst