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August 17, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Dirty Oscar Fodder
Tarantino Pulls Out All the Stops--Again, and Better
By Cole Smithey

Basterdsposter1 Quentin Tarantino has matured as an auteur even if he's as prone as ever to creating funny-ha-ha sequences of joyous cinematic revelry just for the sport of it. Tarantino deploys virtuosic use of character, dialogue, suspense, and surprise in each of this film's five chapters. A tense opening sequence titled "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France" sets the filmmaker's darkly comic yet heavily dramatic tone with Nazi Colonel Hans Landa's (diabolically played by the incomparable Christoph Waltz who won Best Actor at Cannes for his performance)—and his small group of soldiers— visit to a remote farmhouse inhabited by dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) and his three daughters. The objective, naturally, is to search for Jews whom LaPadite may be hiding. A polite battle of wits and willpower between the two adversaries plays out with a savory drama that is astounding for its layers of subtext, precise execution, and originality. The following chapter introduces Tennessee-born Lt. Aldo Raine (played with gusto by Brad Pitt), who indoctrinates his elite squad of Nazi scalpers (Aldo is part Apache Indian) with a speech spun of richly-humored narrative gold. The remaining chapters--each reflecting a different film genre-- build on one another toward a new kind of World War II fantasy climax that is cathartic as it is bittersweet for its inevitable collateral damage.

Loosely inspired by Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 B-movie of the same title--that was itself modeled on Robert Aldrich's "The Dirty Dozen," "Inglourious Basterds" (purposely misspelled to foreshadow the film's tenor as a foreign war fantasy complete with subtitles) is a project Tarantino has kept simmering on a back burner for years. The movie is full of gentle nods to a collection of styles ranging from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns (there's more than a little Ennio Morricone music on hand) to the fetishistic WWII films of Tinto Brass ("Salon Kitty"). Nonetheless, these embellishing elements of stylistic filigree are contained in an exceptionally disciplined manner that serve to pressurize every scene with a dynamic cinematic energy that is intoxicating as it is evocative. When David Bowie's "Putting Out Fire With Gasoline" (from "Cat People") comes up over an especially appropriate scene, the song turbo charges the movie with a rock 'n' roll aesthetic that feels so good it hurts.

Next to Martin Scorsese, there isn't another filmmaker as eloquent and passionate about cinema as Tarantino. Like Scorsese, Tarantino involves himself with his audience on a journey about how to enjoy it in the same way he does. If, as with Sight & Sound magazine's film critic Kim Newman, you reject Tarantino's gift for sharing his filmic inspiration on the grounds that it is in some way degrading, offensive, or irresponsible (because this film "refuses to deal with the long-term consequences of the war"), then I would say you're missing the point. Cinema is our most interactive and vibrant art form. Its intrinsic nature is a collaborative ensemble experience where, as with jazz music, each player brings a distinctive vocabulary and approach that melds to form a particular palate that is then interpreted differently by each audience member. Tarantino's brilliant use of stylistic anachronisms is an active ingredient that defines how such material can be played with in an appropriate context, such as with a war fantasy genre film, to squeeze out the still congealed historic furor of WWII in an internationally communal forum.    

"Inglourious Basterds" is a five-course meal created by one of the world's finest chefs. Not since Scorsese's "The Departed" has anyone made a film that's as much fun. Tarantino masterfully employs an economy of action, thought, and movement that takes you on a wartime movie excursion you never want to end. Every film that Quentin Tarantino makes is a cinematic event of mammoth proportions, and this one is no different. It lives up to the director's brilliant international reputation, and accordingly so does he. "Inglourious Basterds" is Tarantino's best work yet.

Rated R. 152 mins. (A+) (Five Stars)


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