Sunday, September 20, 2009

Review: Inglourious Basterds

In case you’re in a hurry, I’ll give you my verdict up front: I loved Inglourious Basterds.  Loved it!  So much so that I had to write about it, despite it not really being a horror movie. But before you get too excited and go running off to the theater, let me declare that I adore and admire all Tarantino movies (yes, even and perhaps especially Death Proof), and if you don’t at least respect Pulp Fiction, then frankly I wouldn’t bother going to see this movie.  I say this because most people I know who don’t love Tarantino tend to go the other way and hate him with a passion, and if that's the case, there’s really no point in seeing his movies unless you like to complain a lot.  Because this is a quintessential Tarantino film, with all the flourishes. So, if you have an open mind, a Tarantino fixation, or an appreciation for brilliant dialogue and dark humor, then I’d start considering Basterds as your next night out.

If you do go to see it, however, be well prepared for short slices of gruesome, gory action followed by long, elaborate scenarios and winding conversations – but if you’ve seen any Tarantino movie, you’ve probably come to expect (and happily anticipate) that.  Basterds has Tarantino’s trademark lengthy but sharp conversations – some spoken in three or more languages here, no less – and though I'm positive that there were tons of movie references that went right over my head, I found myself constantly sitting tense and at attention, savoring every word and nervously awaiting the inevitable climax.  The thing is, you can't be impatient with Tarantino.  If you spend every conversation waiting only for the action that may or may not come next, you’ll spend most of the movie simply waiting.  You have to relax and relish the story as it unfolds – and this is not a short story, clocking in at just over two and a half hours – or you'll probably hate it.

Now, let me address a few issues. Yes, there are graphic depictions of dead Nazis getting scalped (complete with the obligatory sawing noises). Yes, someone does get beaten to death by a baseball bat, wielded by “The Bear Jew” (played by Eli Roth, who I can only describe as enthusiastic to a fault).  But if you can handle those things – which happen only briefly at the beginning, followed by comparatively little violence for the rest of the movie – the rest of the movie is so funny, smart and well acted that I personally think it’s worth sitting through a few scalpings.

Yes, this movie is completely historically inaccurate. I know some people are apparently upset by this, to which I must say: there are tons of WWII movies in existence that are historically accurate.  Isn’t it okay, by now, to have one that’s not quite so reverent and politically correct?   In any case, Basterds seems to be much more a commentary on the genre of WWII movies than on the event itself.  But if you can’t get past the made-up, alternate-reality nature of the movie, I must urge you not to see this, as it will only anger the surly historian within you.

Yes, Christoph Waltz is fantastic.  Amazing.  Brilliant.  So good at being a Nazi villain it’s scary.  The comment that he deserves an Oscar for his performance seems spot on to me.  I won’t go into the other characters because there were so many (Brad Pitt, Shosanna Dreyfus, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, I could go on and on and on) and they were truly all so good.  See for yourself.

Finally, I don’t want to say much more than that since I feel like the previews already gave away too much, as they always seem to these days.  But, even knowing everything I already knew going into the movie (the preview left little to the imagination as far as the basic storyline), the plot was convoluted and twisty enough to keep me very much on my toes and worrying about what would happen next.  As I said, keep in mind: some bloody violence, no historical accuracy, lots of dialogue, and amazing acting.  If even just one or two of those things appeal to you, I’d take the chance and see it.  If nothing else, I guarantee it will stimulate some heated conversation – which is what Tarantino does best.

Final Rating (out of 5):

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