Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

If Quentin Tarantino were a politician, there would be no ifs, ands, or buts about it; he would be the unequaled king of sound bites. There is simply put, no single director or writer that in my opinion has the ability to write, or direct a more memorable short sequence in movies. I would go so far as to say, it is possible that there has never been anyone more skilled at creating short memorable scenes than Quentin Tarantino. Unfortunately, while those types of things make memorable movie scenes, while they make lasting memories, and incredible movie trailers, they don’t necessarily make great movies, and for many, that has been one of the criticisms of Mr. Tarantino by many of the movie going audience. Of course many of those have never sat through a full length Tarantino movie and for those who go expecting nothing but blood, gore, in your face language and shocking reality, they have missed out on an incredible talent Tarantino has, and in my opinion don’t get nearly enough credit for, he also knows how to tell a memorable story.

Inglourious Basterds is a story that takes in World War 2 France. In the opening sequences we see the German SS troops come upon a small country dairy farm where a father is questioned about harboring Jews. It doesn’t take long before we see the father give in and the Nazi “Jew Finder,” Colonel Hans played with evil delight by Christoph Waltz shows that he is not a man to be trusted.

One of the young Jewish girls hiding underneath the floorboards, Shosanna Dreyfus, escapes and we later see her in the picture as a theater owner.
Tarantino using an unusual style in having various acts, or stages in the movie goes next to a sequence featuring The Inglourious Basterds commanded by Lt. Aldo Raine played brilliantly by Brad Pitt. Let me make clear here, this role for Ptt, while not as long as I would have thought from the advance trailers of the movie, is by and far my favorite character for Pitt in any movie up until this film. He plays in a absolute terrifying comedic way the role of Tennessee native Aldo Raine. He has one goal, one purpose, to kill Nazis. In the process he wants 100 scalps from each of the men under his command, and he does mean real scalps, and for those very, very few, who live, he wants to make sure he and his men leave a lasting impression to let the whole world know they once served for the SS in the Nazi regime.

Eventually, while the characters portrayed in the two primary roles never meet, they do by happenstance have the same goals, which ultimately result in them taking part in some history changing movie magic. In the process, the viewer is taken through an almost operatic telling of not only part history, but part what if. In other words we have an impression of the brilliantly, twisted mind of Quentin Tarantino telling us what could have been if these characters and events had lived in the way he presents. It is what makes movies magical, and it is one of the things that make Tarantino brilliant.

Now before this gets to sounding like a Quentin Tarantino man crush, let me make clear a few things, while I have the utmost respect for Tarantino, while I enjoyed this movie, while I got caught up in the hype, I have to say, this isn’t my favorite Tarantino film as many have hyped. In fact I don’t even know if this is among the top 3 or four.

In typical, and for many, unknown, Tarantino style we see a lot of dialog in Inglourious Basterds. In most of Tarantino’s movies this leads to some interesting character development. For whatever reason, this doesn’t seem to occur here. We go through the movie not really knowing and having an understanding of the characters. This is especially true for Lt. Aldo Raine. There are other characters though where this is the case, remember it isn’t just Lt Aldo Raine, there are a number of Inglourious Basterds but unfortunately, we don’t really know that much about any of them. Only that they are Jewish and a few of them have a reputation. The jumping back and forth between stories didn’t quite work for me either, that is until the stories merged. On this point, let me make clear, I think that while Tarantino has done this type of thing before, I don’t think there were as many transitions in his films. I think one of the story arcs could have been left out to leave more room for character development.

Inglourious Basterds presents a side of evil that in many ways resembles real evil. I couldn’t help but notice that evil, when confronted with revenge and hate, even with the guise of justice, often becomes a blurred image confusing reality. I can’t help but think of Jesus teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. If someone is angry at their brother they are just as guilty as the murderer. I found myself having a hard time enjoying the evil being perpetuated against even the evil characters in the film. I think that is a part of what Tarantino tries to do though, that is to confront at times particular common notions of things like justice through violence. I am not sure as Tarantino marches to the beat of a different drummer, it is one of the reasons I like his work he is so hard to figure out, yet so dedicated to his work.

I liked Inglourious Basterds, it was worth the price of admission just to see Brad Pitt. Those sound bites, those short lines and scenes will be one of the enjoyable things about this movie that I remember. Seeing a scene where he speaks Italian in a Tennessee accent to a German officer is hilarious. There were a surprising number of scenes that had the audience laughing. Yet, I have to admit, I was disappointed, maybe it was the idiot sitting in front of me that kept using his cell, or if it was just the lack of character development, I am not sure, I just know that for me, compared to the other Tarantino films, either as an actor, writer, director or producer, I can personally think of several of them that I liked more. It was still worth it though, because even when a genius is off a little bit, you are still in for something special, and that is certainly the case with Inglourious Basterds.

On a scale of 1 – 10, start with a ten, take a way the three stooges which he loves, and you end up with a rather enjoyable 7.

The following is a trailer from the movie Inglourious Basterds, just click on teh video, if the video don't work, click on the link

Interview with Brad Pitt on the Today Show from France

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