People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
  DVD Review: Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds is a brilliant movie. It’s probably Quentin Tarantino’s best film yet (something he himself seems to acknowledge
with the final line of the film, spoken directly into the camera by Brad Pitt), fusing the wacky, over-the-top style of Kill Bill with the more mature storytelling of Jackie Brown.

Like a lot of Tarantino movies, the pacing of Inglourious Basterds is very weird (huge chunks of dialogue, quick bursts of violence), even more so than usual with his movies, but it still all works somehow. It's filled with things that left a lot of people cold in his previous film, Death Proof – very long stretches where nothing more happens than characters converse in an almost direct challenge to the viewer’s patience – but unlike that film, where I (and just about everyone else) felt bored more than once and really just wanted everyone to shut the hell up and just DO something already, in Inglourious Basterds I was in no real rush to get to the inevitable violence that breaks the tension in Tarantino films; the scene in the basement bar, for example, I could have happily watched go on for another 10 or 15 minutes (and it already runs close to a half-hour, by Tarantino’s own estimation). This is a movie filled with things that shouldn’t work, but they do, and they work spectacularly.

Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s most audacious movie, and not just because he changes the history of WWII. The fact that he made a comedic action movie about World War II, one that doesn't attempt to gloss over the Nazis but in fact rather is very much about the Nazis (the movie is chock full of Nazi imagery, more than any recent WWII movie I can recall), and takes such gleeful pleasure in their’s amazing that he pulled off a film that’s so filled with grisly violence, but is also hysterical.

As much as it’s a war movie, Inglourious Basterds drips with cinema, somehow being both an insane triumph of the medium, and also being about it, but without getting too precious about it. The fact that Tarantino’s movie about movies is actually a WWII picture (as opposed to a more traditional Hollywood spoof where it’s a movie about how movies are made) just makes it weirder, but it also makes a certain sense, as WWII was the last black-and-white, good-vs.-evil war, which therefore makes it the last great war you can make a fun action-adventure movie about. There have been brilliant movies about all
Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine prepares his Basterds for warsorts of depressing, more recent wars, from Platoon to 2009’s phenomenal Iraq War thriller The Hurt Locker, but I don't think anyone would call any of those films “fun.”

The cast also deserves a huge amount of credit. Brad Pitt, despite being the focus of the marketing, has a relatively small role, though he made me laugh just about every time he opened his mouth. (I happen to think Pitt, despite his movie-idol looks, is an incredibly underrated comic actor.) Christoph Waltz is getting the bulk of the attention (and it’s all deserved; this is the best villain performance I’ve seen since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, which doesn’t sound like much, as that film came out in 2008, but that was one of the best villains I’d seen in a movie in many years), and it looks like he’s still a shoo-in for an Oscar. His Col. Hans Landa is alternately charming, terrifying and ridiculous (that pipe!), and it’s a truly special performance. But it’s Mélanie Laurent as Shoshanna, the revenge-seeking cinema proprietor, who really blows me away every time I watch the movie (which has been a few times now). She gets the best character arc in the movie, and Tarantino once again displays his flair for creating truly strong female protagonists. Laurent’s Shoshanna goes right up there in the pantheon with Pam Grier’s Jackie Brown and Uma Thruman’s Bride
. Just fantastic stuff.

I mentioned not too long ago when I ran down my list of favorite movies that Kill Bill is my favorite Tarantino movie, and it still is. But Inglourious Basterds is his best so far. It’s so good that I spent a chunk of this review fighting against my dark urges to use awful movie-review clichés like calling it “a towering achievement,” but that’s exactly what this movie is. Inglourious Basterds is a great movie, and like just about all of his previous films, it’s one that only Quentin Tarantino could have made.



Inglourious Basterds marks one of the first times a Quentin Tarantino film gets a properly loaded DVD release right out of the gate (everything else he’s done, with the exceptionThe divine Mélanie Laurent as Shoshanna of Death Proof, was initially issued as a bare-bones disc, with the proper special editions coming later...and I’m still waiting for the long-promised Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair, but I'm starting to think the Maple Leafs will win a Stanley Cup before that happens. But I’m digressing). The two-disc special edition DVD comes with some nice extras, though no commentary; Tarantino still seems to record commentary tracks only for other people’s movies. There are some extended and deleted scenes on disc 1, as well as the full version of the Nazi propaganda film featured in the latter part of the movie, A Nation’s Pride.

Disc 2 has a nice extended junket discussion between Tarantino, Pitt and New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell, which manages to cover plenty of ground in about 20 minutes or so. There’s a making-of bit for A Nation’s Pride that, unfortunately, is actually just a lame comedy bit purporting to be a featurette about the actual fake movie, featuring interviews with “Joseph Goebbels” and a particularly irritating Eli Roth (who plays Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz in the film) pretending to be the director of the film within the film, complete with a painfully hammy accent. It’s only a few minutes long, but it falls flat and feels considerably a lot longer than it actually is. Also included is a montage of the actors greeting Tarantino’s longtime editor, Sally Menke, in various outtakes, (it’s weird, but also oddly charming) and some more goofy behind-the-scenes footage. It’s not as comprehensive as I wanted it to be – I’m a sucker for lengthy making-of documentaries and filmmaker commentaries for movies as fantastic as Inglourious Basterds – but the movie itself is the main attraction here. This is a very solid DVD for what's easily one of the best movies of 2009, and it deserves inclusion in the collections of anyone who considers themselves a movie buff.

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