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Inglorious Basterds

Pulp Fiction arguably was one of the classic pieces of cinema in film history. Even if you don’t particularly like Tarantino’s style, even the most cynical can recognize the level of quality in the movie. His follow up film, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 (no I don’t count Jackie Brown) was, to me, an even greater success in filmmaking. Next up was Death Proof, which wasn’t particularly amazing, but was sufficient enough not tarnish Tarantino’s name. And it left me wanting more; I wanted to see one of my favorite directors at his prime again. So when the production of Inglorious Bastards was announced I got all gitty with excitement at seeing the very talented director do something he has never done before: a war movie. Said war movie is a remake of a 1978 Italian war movie, The Inglorious Bastards, or at least a loose remake. I have seen the original and it was one of those movies that stuck in my mind. It was a very dated movie, with C-List actors (all of them foreign, by the way), and poor set designs. But it was saved from the realms of obscurity by a pretty original plot, one that the film takes full advantage of to elevate the it into a sort of charming campiness that made movies like Evil Dead such successes. So yeah I was pretty excited and have been for well over a year. Expectations like that normally don’t live up to them, but who am I to question Quentin Tarantino? Because not only did this film live up to all expectations, it set the stage for the next step in Tarantino’s career as a filmmaker.
The film is broken into five chapters. A film technique Tarantino used in Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction. The film’s five chapters each star a different set of characters and stories, all interwoven, coming together at the end, making a pretty awesome tapestry of film. But I digress, the film opens with Chapter One and right from the start you can tell it is a Tarantino movie. His slow pace to fast pace is used brilliantly in the opening chapter. It stars an ambiguous man who may or may not be hiding Jews (the film is set in WWII, by the way, Chapter One being titled “Once Upon a Time in a Nazi-Occupied France”). He is visited by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), the Nazi’s official “Jew Hunter”. The conversation between the two has quickly risen in my list of classic movie scenes. Tarantino’s singular focus of the characters and their conversation is a technique he used in Death Proof. While it didn’t necessarily work in that movie, it succeeds perfectly in this one. The dialogue is smart, intelligent, charming, and most importantly, has that unique Tarantino flair. The philosophical musings Waltz’s character proposes is also strangely fascinating. He compares a person’s natural hate to rats to Nazi’s hate of Jews. The idea is just so brilliantly evil that I can’t help but love it, even though it has some glaring cracks in its logic. But this isn’t a movie of philosophy, it’s just a movie, and Tarantino reminds us of that with an ending that…well I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice it to say that Hans Landa is one of the best villains in recent memory and his presence alone helps to elevate this movie above others like it. The other chapters involve the titular Bastards and an assortment of others that plan on brining down Hitler and the Third Reich. The Bastards are the best of these, in both character and badassary. Normally when a performance is marketed as a tour de force, I roll my eyes and look forward to critiquing it until it cries. Brad Pitt’s role as Lieutenant Aldo Raine is one such performance (and bias opinion aside, i.e. I actually try to defend Pitt as an actor to all his naysayer’s) and unsurprisingly he lives up to the hype, mostly. The rest of the starring Bastards include Staff Sergeant Donny Donowitz aka "The Bear Jew" (Eli Roth), the psychotic Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), and PFC Smithson Utivich aka "The Little Man" (B. J. Novak). They all shine in their roles and, like Waltz’s character, really help to make the movie come alive. The Bastards are given the starring role in the second chapter, and properly set up the rest of the film’s mood. In the chapter we see the formation of this colorful bunch, in the form of an initiation speech given by Pitt. Then we catch up to the group some time later in France, well into there mission to kill every Nazi they find. Here we see a group of Jews performing acts of torture and brutality on some much deserving Nazis. I’m not sure if this is politically correct or not, but it’s really well directed and scripted. Depending on your tolerance for such things, you may or may not be offended (I wasn’t). There are some pretty brutal scenes not for the faint of heart, but it’s Tarantino (never walk into a movie by Tarantino and expect it to be family friendly). After the colorful second chapter, Tarantino moves us along into the third and forth were the meat of the story takes place. It involves the proprietress (Mélanie Laurent) of a small movie house (whom is secretly a Jew) and the unfortunate advances of the young Nazi war hero Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl). Long story short, Shosanna (the proprietor), is placed in an ideal place to exact her revenge on all the top dogs of the Nazi party, including Hitler himself. After that we enter the forth chapter which switches back to the Bastards and there attempt to infiltrate said place. The Bastards ally themselves with the British, who send Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), a fast, smoothing, talking British officer who can speak German and was a movie critic before joining the army. His assignment is given to him by General Ed Fenech, played by Mike Myers in a cameo role, that’s quite entertaining. It’s not quite Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, but still memorable enough to mention. From there the Bastards and Hicox meet up with Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a famous German actress and spy for the British. They meet in a Nazi pub where, without spoiling too much ends in a pretty intense standoff. The entire chapter is directed with Tarantino’s signature flair. It makes it a little longwinded and takes awhile to get where it’s going but in the end that’s all forgotten. The film then moves into its final act, which takes all the lingering threads the movie has lain out and weaves them all together. In this fifth chapter Tarantino displays a very acute ability to tell a smooth and fast story. He tones down his slow moments, stretching out his directing skills. In the end, the result pays off very well. In fact, this final chapter is probably one of the best directed scenes Tarantino has done in his illustrious career. There are at least a dozen moments that stick out in my mind, from a hilarious Brad Pitt trying to speak Italian (his character is from the south), to Hans Landa’s even more hilarious reaction to the Bastards, and speaking of that character, he gets one more act of devious evil that further cements him as top villain of 2009. If I had to make one complaint (and I do), it would be a very disappointing confrontation between Hans and Aldo nearer to the end. I was expecting some sparks to fly between the two or at least some compelling interaction between them. But instead we don’t get much, and Christoph Waltz’s superb acting dwarfs Pitts, so much so that I was almost wishing that it was another character Hans was having his duel of the wills with. My only other gripe is that the final ending doesn’t quite justify the two and a half hour run time (and by that I mean it is a little disappointing). Also something happens to a certain person that doesn’t really happen in real life, but it’s not that big of an issue. Suffice it to say that the final part is the best, and while it doesn’t really end in the most satisfying way or the most logical, it’s still the best of the five chapters and elevate the movie above the muddled mess it could have been if Tarantino didn’t properly tie all his knots together.
All in all for Tarantino, Inglorious Bastards is more than a return to form. It’s a maturing, much in the way Gladiator was for Ridley Scott. It’s certainly one of the best films of the year and is highly recommended to anyone who is a fan of cinema. The sheer amount of references and Easter eggs that Tarantino litters throughout will also delight anyone who is a fan of foreign war movies, specifically the spaghetti war movies filmed in the 70’s. But for casual fans, Inglorious Bastards will probably be a new experience, but one that is very worth it.



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