Monday, August 24, 2009

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

Requester: JGM

So, Inglourious Basterds reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. How, you say? Easy. If you draw a parallel between Quentin Tarantino’s body of work to the entire run of Buffy, Inglourious Basterds is like the sixth and seventh season of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s magnum opus. Although those seasons were stronger than most everything else on television, they didn’t quite compare to Buffy’s earlier (and superior) offerings. I suppose that’s just an elaborate way to say that I didn’t think Inglourious Basterds was quite as good as Taratino’s other films (Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction in particular), but it was still one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. However, I’ll use any excuse to make a Buffy reference. Deal with it.

Before I get into my justifications, let me quickly describe the plot for those who haven’t seen the film. Essentially, Inglourious Basterds is a film that serves as a vehicle to punish Nazis. The Basterds are a group of Jews led by Brad Pitt that capture Nazis, torture them, and kill them. Another plot line involves Shoshanna, a Jewish girl who escaped slaughter at the hands of Hans Landa, played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz. She plots revenge against the Nazis. Finally, the British are also trying to take down the Nazis. Got all that? Basically, all of these plots to eliminate Nazis culminate in a final showdown at Shoshanna’s theater. Phew. Let’s move on.

In typical Tarantino fashion, the movie juggles outlandish violence with long scenes of dialogue. Tarantino is famous for his banter, so most scenes are particularly effective. There are two notable scenes with Waltz that are unbearable tense and brilliant. However, the pacing of the violence and dialogue is slightly uneven. There are long scenes involving Shoshanna and an unwitting Nazi soldier that do not hold up to Tarantino’s usual standard of excellence. The entire development of the film is back-to-back dialogue, from the last scene of the Basterd’s brutality until a stunning scene set in a bar basement. More effective Tarantino films have played with the temporal order of the movie to create a more even sense of pace. Part of me wishes he had employed that here.

As for the plot, it really just serves to set up the grand finale, which is a smorgasbord of brutality. The last chapter of the movie is exciting, suspenseful, tragic, funny, and very bloody. However, I did have a moral qualm with the ending. I really do not want to spoil anything, so let me just say this. Tarantino, especially in the past, has very successfully established the moral compass of his characters. In situations of extreme violence, the perpetrator is either someone very evil or something very justified in doing something outlandish. However, in Inglourious Basterds, there was a great deal of carnage that I didn’t quite find necessary. I cannot say more without feeling like I’m giving too much away. If you want to see a Tarantino movie that is all build-up to a huge payoff, check out Death Proof. Somehow (for me) three girls in a Dodge Challenger facing off against Kurt Russell provided more catharsis than all of the slaughter at the end of Inglourious Basterds.

So, the movie builds up to the final act. Perhaps, to some, the long stretches of dialogue were necessary or consistently enjoyable. However, I found a few scenes to be excessive. Perhaps a more morally digestible ending would have made the lead-up seem more appropriate. It’s hard to say. The bottom line is that Inglourious Basterds is extremely well-shot, acted, and directed. The dialogue is generally excellent and the movie provides a satisfying experience. However, I expect more from Tarantino because I know he’s capable of slightly better. I left the theater content, but not exhilarated. Things were better when Uma Thurman was involved. Do you think that’s an appropriate parallel for David Boreanaz?

Rating: 4/5 stars

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