Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company, R)

film_basterds_sm.jpgBeing a Tarantino film, synopsizing the plot means synopsizing three or more plots.

 

 

 

 

 

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Although Quentin Tarantino has long been lauded for the various things he brings to contemporary films—his use of music, his integration of film history (both well known and otherwise), his ability to write dialogue, his endless stylization—it seems like it’s been a while, if ever, that he’s really been praised for his ability to pull a cast together. Sure, all of his movies have great casts, especially his first three, but with his new film, he’s really pulled off a feat. Everyone is cast exquisitely: the raw star power of Brad Pitt, funny TV actors B.J. Novak (The Office) and Samm Levine (Freaks & Geeks), unknown but superb European character actor Christoph Waltz, and a whole smattering of rising and current European film stars (Daniel Brühl, Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger among them). It’s no coincidence that half of the writing on Inglourious Basterds at this point is in regard to its cast, especially Waltz.

Perhaps another reason for that fact is that aside from the cast, Inglourious Basterds leaves something to be desired. Mind you, this is a great example of the classic trap of the respected filmmaker—if anyone other than Tarantino had made this film I probably would have liked it a lot more, but as it stands, I’m vaguely disappointed. It seems more or less on par with Jackie Brown, my least favorite of Tarantino’s oeuvre.

Being a Tarantino film, synopsizing the plot means synopsizing three or more plots. The meat of Basterds is ostensibly the Basterds themselves. They’re a group of Nazi-scalping Americans in Europe, of whom the Nazis have learned to be very afraid (thanks to a device stolen from the previous Tarantino story, Natural Born Killers, where they leave one victim alive from each slaughter to tell the tale). The Basterds are led by Lt. Aldo Raine, played by the aforementioned Pitt as something like Forrest Gump with the stupidity turned down and the war hero turned up. Meanwhile, Colonel Landa (Waltz), "The Jew Hunter," spends his time in the employ of the Nazis tracking down well-hidden Jews, such as the Basterds themselves. There’s also the story of Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent, very good, and looking like a young Uma Thurman), a Jew who escaped while her family perished at the hands of The Jew Hunter, and also one of German movie star Bridget von Hammersmark (Kruger), who is very noirishly working as a double agent.

Of course, there’s some great Tarantino dialogue here. I’m particularly fond of anything involving Col. Landa, and also a scene that requires our Basterds to speak Italian. (What do you think Tarantino’s trying to say by making his European characters eloquent in a handful of languages apiece, but our American heroes unable to speak anything but English, and not even speak that very well?) There’s also some great Tarantino violence, including an Irreversible-style head crushing (though with the camera farther away), a handful of graphic scalpings and other methods of torture enacted on the Nazis by the Basterds. What there’s a lack of, though, is much in the way of new ideas. This feels like regular old Tarantino, but just in longer form than he’s been working lately; if I wanted that, I’d go back and watch Pulp Fiction again, because at least that PF doesn’t end with a masturbatory final act set in a movie theater. That type of thing is a nice encapsulation of my problem with Basterds: Whereas previous Tarantino films would wink at its film-educated viewer, this film beats you over the head with it…as close to literally as possible. | Pete Timmermann

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