#4: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Drama, War
2h33min; R

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I remember going to see Inglourious Basterds in 2009 with my father. It was a review assignment for my high school newspaper and it was only the second R-rated film that I had ever seen in a theater. The first was Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. In my original review I can recall a general bitchiness about how long the film was as well as a lack of knowledge about Quentin Tarantino or what his films are like. The only Tarantino film I had seen then was Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Nearly 7 years since I first saw the film, my preferred running time for movies has evolved- I like them long– as well as my knowledge of Quentin Tarantino and his filmography. So what do I think of the film now?

There is a part of me that believes Tarantino will never top Inglourious Basterds. It is not my favorite of his films but it is his best film. Never in Tarantino’s career has script, cinematography and the pacing and editing of the film come together so cohesively. Every one of the film’s five chapters builds up to a crescendo and while they are distended vignettes they build upon one another to make the film’s hilarious and disturbing final moments more meaningful than in any other Tarantino film. This is the ultimate ending, the defeat of Nazi Germany! By a Nazi, no less.

Not a moment of this film feels wasted, and that’s saying something for a 2 1/2 hour film and a Tarantino film at that.

This is Tarantino’s saddest film. Innocents die throughout and many people trying to do good expire in their mission. The best scene in the film, the most heart-wrenching, takes place in the film’s 4th chapter. In a basement bar, members of the Basterds unit meet with their German contact to plan an attack on the German high command. At length an enemy German office joins their table, and through a genius stroke of observation he realizes that they are all in impostors wearing Nazi uniforms. He points a gun at the testicles of Lieutenant Archie Hicox, played with an icy cool that has come to define many of Michael Fassbender’s roles. Hicox suggests that they leave with the German office held at gunpoint, but this is not going to happen. No matter what happens the two of them are staying right there. The silent look in Fassbender’s eyes when Hicox realizes his fate is unforgettable. Whenever I think of this film my heart immediately flings to that image. That Fassbender is only in the film for less than half an hour is a testament to his gravitas as an actor, and made me a believer after having really only seen him in 2006’s 300.

inglourious-basterds-2009-1317

In Blu-Ray the film is so much more beautiful than I remember. While cinematographer Robert Richardson captures the classic broken gray hue of WWII-era Europe he also manages to show a brighter side of the conflict, particularly in the parts of the film that involve Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) and her movie theater. The theater is gorgeously lit, with hints of Roger Deakins. The opening moments of the film also brought the realization of the few number of times that I have seen a WWII film set, for a moment, in the green fields of France.

The acting is superb as it is in every Tarantino film. Christoph Waltz is unforgettable as SS Colonel Hans Landa, the “Jew hunter”. Waltz was certainly deserving of his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role. Brad Pitt is spectacular as Lt. Aldo Raine, “Aldo the Apache”, and all of the film’s funny moments require his presence. This is not Tarantino’s funniest film- my heart tells me that such a title belongs to Django Unchained– but it is certainly funnier than The Hateful Eight or Kill Bill. Or Reservoir Dogs.

Never in Tarantino’s career has script, cinematography and the pacing and editing of the film come together so cohesively.

Again, Fassbender is mesmerizing. Diane Kruger does fine as the German actress Bridget von Hammersmark. Also of note are Eli Roth as the baseball bat-swinging “Bear Jew” and B.J. Novak as a Private First Class Utivich a.k.a. “the Little Man”. Finally, there is Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna Dreyfus, a French Jew escaped from Landa’s clutches who owns a movie theater in Paris. Watching Shoshanna maintain her composure during an extended Nazi luncheon she is dragged to is heat-pounding, particularly when Waltz’ Landa comes into play. Throughout the film Shoshanna is dogged by Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), a legendary young German sniper who is smitten with her. Bruhl is very adept at playing a composed stalker. Watch him do something very similar in this year’s Captain America: Civil War.

Not a moment of this film feels wasted, and that’s saying something for a 2 1/2 hour film and a Tarantino film at that. Both Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight suffer from being too fat along the edges but not this film. The film only gives you what you need to know never tarries. Every character’s history is exposited masterfully during conversation. I remember when I wrote my initial review of the film in 2009, how frustrated I was that the  tense conversation in the bar only led to a fifteen second explosion of violence. I believe the words I used were “this scene offers next to no payoff.” Watching the film once again, 7 years earlier and more understanding, feeling the tension in this scene tick upward to oblivion is tantamount to getting laid. So sayeth a man who loves movies.

 

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