Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds: King of the Jews

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


  1. What Johnny Cash song? And what do you mean by "charming but obviously British" when you mention Fassbender's character? And how do the rest of the Basterds more than pick up "the slack that Pitt may provide" [You write "may provide" here, but you should probably commit. Does he "provide" slack or not?] when most of them barely have any screen time. Also, Eli Roth was really annoying as a Basterd.

    Great movie, though.

  2. Yeah, I didn't hear any Johnny Cash, only what may, to the untrained and unlikely to IMDB cross reference ear, be PERCEIVED as Johnny Cash...
    Kiiiinda surprised you didn't say anything about Mike Myers practically blending in but still adding to the overall film. Actually, no I'm not.

    Diane Kruger is crying herself to sleep because you didn't mention her portrayal of that German actress broad who alerted us all to the possibility of 'death by foot worship'.

    Yeah, I'm trying real hard to be a dick here.
    your roommate

  3. Holy shit, gang. That was David Bowie? I could have, and others with me could have, sworn it was older Johnny Cash. My face is red, and it is corrected.

    "Charming but obviously British" was a reference to how he gave himself away.

    The Basterds were all great. I was annoyed by Roth a mere one time.

    Mike Myers was good. Kruger suuuuucked after the tavern scene.

    Kevin was more of a dick than you. Try harder!

  4. you're right, he was, only because he pretty much covered things in the Brad Pitt department and there was nothing left to say.

    And yeah, I was no big fan of hers, I just felt like saying "German actress broad".

  5. I wasn't really bothered by Eli Roth and actually thought the facial expression he contorted during the theater massacre was downright perfect.

    Brad Pitt left slack? I thought he was a light, humorous character, and a beacon-like reminder (not that it is necessarily needed) that this movie is a farce and not to be taken all too seriously.

  6. I was mostly just annoyed whenever Eli Roth had to open his mouth. Brad Pitt was fine. I'm just glad he wasn't the lead like all the ads made him out to be.

  7. Oh, and by the way, the "David Bowie sounding like Johnny Cash track" wasn't poorly chosen at all. It ruled.

  8. You're really choosey when it comes to interpreting what I write, because I even say 'almost poorly'. When Cat People comes in I was like "eh... eh? Uh... okay... okay. Okay, I see where you're going with this." It seemed like a strange fit, and then I grew to accept and even like it.