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Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Eli Roth as Sgt. Donny Donowitz and Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine in "Inglourious Basterds", directed by Quentin Tarantino.  (Photo: Francois Duhamel/TWC)
Those Bloody Basterds, Scalping MF-in' Nazis Up The French Yazoo.
Yahoo!  Yee Haw!

By Omar P.L. Moore/  SHARE
Friday, August 21, 2009

In Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds", a brilliant mix of opera and suspense, there are set pieces that would make compelling films by themselves -- especially the amazing fifteen-minute opening scene featuring sure-to-be Oscar-nominated actor Christoph Waltz, with the year's best supporting performance as SS Nazi Security Chief Col. Hans Landa -- as he interrogates a French farmer (a terrific Denis Menochet) about any hiding Jewish families remaining in the Gallic countryside in 1941.  Landa is smart, calculating, complex, cruel and hilarious in his every move, cadence, gesticulation and thought process.  Inhabited by Mr. Waltz Col. Landa is almost always three steps ahead of his opponents and the audience.  "Inglourious Basterds", which opened at midnight this morning across the U.S. and Canada, doesn't quite possess the high-level acumen of its number one bad guy but it's still the shrewdest and possibly best film Mr. Tarantino has directed.

Three main stories are at work in this two-hour-32 minute epic.  A group of eight Jewish-American soldiers named The Basterds are in France each looking to get 100 Nazi scalps for their fearless Apache leader Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, funny with a capital "F" in his comedic drawl.)  Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a Jewish survivor, hatches a revenge plan to make the propaganda-minded Nazis pay for their evil-doing, inheriting and utilizing a movie theater from her late aunt.  An undercover operation involving a German actress (Diane Kruger) to subvert the Nazi infrastructure is afoot.  Told in five chapters each with crucial scenes of suspense Hitchcock would be proud of, "Inglourious Basterds" is akin to a chess match without a timer.  Each pawn on the director's cinematic chess board is advanced oh-so-slowly one square at a time, a three-second move feeling like an excruciating but exquisite ten minutes -- and it's the grand ensemble of actors on the board who deliver the riveting results via excellently written dialogue by Mr. Tarantino, his words laced with irony, silences and gallows humor. 

With his Lt. Raine Mr. Pitt's exaggeration of quirky characters (in "Thelma & Louise", "Snatch" and "Burn After Reading") continues here and Miss Laurent too is memorable, evoking a Dietrich look but more importantly exuding toughness, smarts and confidence.  Miss Laurent's Shosanna is the kind of woman warrior with a three-dimensional heartbeat that Hollywood wished its onscreen women possessed, especially in its romantic comedies.  Mr. Tarantino consistently writes strong and vulnerable big screen women ("Pulp Fiction", "Jackie Brown", "Kill Bill", "Death Proof"), so why on earth can't anyone else these days?  And one cannot help but admire Eli Roth, whose brooding intensity and no-holds barred approach as a horror film director is matched here as an actor playing Le Basterd Extraordinaire Sgt. Donny Donowitz (aka "The Bear Jew"), a gung-ho Massachusetts massacre man on a mission with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat as the key instrument of his brutal handiwork.

Sly, subversive, satirical and graphically violent (how can such a film be anything but?), "Inglourious Basterds" works because its actors work hard for it.  That the film's music plays loudly and its imagery, production design (David Wasco) and cinematography (Robert Richardson) are all eye-popping, and its chief creator meticulous and methodical are bonuses.  As with each of his films Mr. Tarantino showcases an abiding love of cinema, with references to Pabst, Riefenstahl, Selznick and others, plus his trademark philosophical conversational types, fetishistic weaponry ("Reservoir Dogs", "Pulp Fiction", "Kill Bill" films) and long, dancing dialogue dangling dangerously and pulsing with possibility.  There are shots of resonance and tension in such inanimate articles as food and drink, whether they be a glass of milk as a signature suspense bridge, or the whipped cream that slides slowly and uneasily on apple strudel.  Style points like these up the ante and though sleight of hand may be played with history during this epic propagandistic wild child of a film, history itself isn't the point of "Inglourious Basterds": re-imagining, justice and phantasmagorical heroism is -- in a good old-fashioned, sophisticated and vibrantly entertaining way.

With: Michael Fassbender, Daniel Brühl, Omar Doom, Til Schweiger, Jacky Ido, Gedeon Burkhard, Sylvester Groth, Martin Wuttke, Julie Dreyfus, Mike Myers, August Diehl with voice cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel.

"Inglourious Basterds" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality.  The film's duration is two hours and 32 minutes.  In English, French and German languages with English subtitles.

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