Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek
benpeek

Inglourious Basterds

I have to admit, one of my cinematic guilty pleasures are the films that Quentin Tarantino makes. Not the films that he stars in, I assure you, but the ones he directs. For all the style, excess, and occasional self employment of his limited acting ability, I do dig them.

With that said, then, I have to confess that I found Inglourious Basterds a conflicted Tarantino film, one that played to his previously established strengths of excessive violence, quirky characters, and stylised dialogue, but one which also showed a different Tarantino, one that is restrained, realistic, and at times tragic. The latter occurred whenever he focused on any of the French characters, who are lead by Melanie Laurent's Shosanna, a Jewish girl who after the death of her family, finds herself in France, running a cinema and the object of affection for German war hero, Fredrick Zoller, played by Daniel Bruhl. There, she comes face to face with Colonel Hans Landa, the German commander who is in charge of hunting down and killing Jews in France. Christoph Waltz, who plays the character, is actually the best of some very good performances in the film, and is totally compelling in his portrayal of the highly intelligent, dangerous and charming commander, from the first moment that he steps into the film. Placed against this, however, is the storylines of Aldo Raine's guerilla group of German killing soldiers. Raine is Pitt's character, and he comes complete with a thick accent, the scar from a noose around his neck, and everything else that is excessive that you can think of in a Tarantino film. Raine and his group in the film are involved in a plot to blow up the cinema that Shosanna runs while a German film festival is taking place, killing such German high command figures as Joseph Goebbels and Hitler himself. Of course, things start to go wrong when the group is told to meet Bridget von Hammersmark in a basement bar. It's a terrible place for a meeting, they all say, and indeed it is, but it allows for Tarantino to build a nice, claustrophobic scene.

About half way through the film, I realised that the one figure I could lose from it and not feel as if anything had been lost was Pitt's Raine. He, like the Samuel L. Jackson voice over, and the occasional flaskback for a select few Basterds, felt as if they were unnecessary in the larger film, and a strong editorial hand should have pruned them out in the early script factor. With that removed, I reckon that the film would have been Tarantino's best, and shown an entirely new voice and sensibility for him--and to be fair, as it is, it does show a new voice--one that is building, even, on the inter-contextualised references to other films and film movements established in Kill Bill and to a lesser extent, Death Proof--but rather than one that is successful, I think it shows a voice struggling to emerge.

Anyhow, I did enjoy the film, despite the fact that it has one of my pet hates in American cinema, which is films that deal with Nazi Germany. So strong is my hate for American Nazi films that I almost considered not going to see this film, but since I recognise that this hate of mine stems entirely from the racist and awful films that Steven Spielberg has thrown out and had lauded, I figured I ought to put it aside. It isn't that I think the Holocaust is a fabrication, or that I think these films make it seem worse than it was, but rather because the treatment of them are so often in the same vein as the Nazis portrayed in the Indiana Jones, in which they wear black coats and have maps to various treasures burned into the flesh of their hands. For the most part, Tarantino actually manages to avoid this, however, and that is mostly due to the excellence of Waltz and Bruhl, but whenever Pitt is on screen, you can't help but think of this tendency, and occasionally wait for Harrison Ford to stroll into scene with his whip and hat and a Bible and say, "I don't suppose you know the way to the Holy Grail, do you?"

(crossposted)
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