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Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

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There are very few who make films like Quentin Tarantino. The man has a distinct vision going into whatever project he makes; he plans out just what he wants to make and goes for it with all his might. The man has a special kind of love for cinema and it just oozes from every frame of film that he shoots. In some ways he is a modern day Edward D. Wood, Jr. Wood may have been a terrible filmmaker, but there is no denying that he loved everything he shot. Now, if he had talent, he might have been a Tarantino. In any case, Quentin Tarantino is a director with vision, and love him or hate him, you have to respect the energy he brings to the screen, plus the fact that you will be guaranteed a unique experience.

Inglourious Basterds is another Tarantino film where the man begs, borrows, and steals from a large chunk of cinema history, puts it through the blender and creates a film that is fresh and definitely worth seeing on the big screen. This is a film that Tarantino has been talking about for years. I remember it coming up before he made the Kill Bill films and it had pretty much been written at that point. After seeing the film I can sort of see why, as this is easily his most ambitious film to date. It has a large scope and marches to the beat of a drummer that is distinctly not that of modern Hollywood.

The story is told in chapters and follows a few different threads, all of which converge in the finale. In typical Tarantino fashion, he eschews the three-act format and tells it his way, comprised of chapters that tell the tale in a non-linear fashion. It is a movie that demands that you pay attention, but it is also one that does not require personal involvement. This is the one area in which the movie fails for me. As good as it is, as beautifully pieced together and superbly acted and written, I feel that I was left out in the cold emotionally. The parts of the film that should evoke an emotional response just miss. It is more often the visceral moments that got the biggest reaction out of me. Still, it is a point minimized by the rest of the film and its content.

Inglourious Basterds is unlike any war movie I have ever seen, likely because while it may be set during World War II, it is hardly a war movie. It is a movie that plays with historical reality, forced to fit into the mold that Tarantino has crafted for it. Do not go in looking for historical accuracy, you are not going to get it. This is more along the lines of a revenge fantasy than it is a war film.

The story is told through three primary sets of eyes, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), and Shosanna (Melanie Laurent). Aldo is the hero figure of the piece, a man specializing in blunt force trauma as he leads his "Basterds" roughshod through whatever Nazi groups they find. They are behind enemy lines and have one mission, kill Nazis. This is something they do well. Aldo leads them on their missions, giving the Nazi high command all manner of headaches, then their paths cross with others as we build towards the finish. Then there is Col. Landa, a member of the SS and one of Germany's best "Jew hunters." He is cold, calculating, and very intelligent. He is a man you do not want to get into a battle of wits with. Finally we have Shosanna, a young woman who runs a cinema in Paris, and was a witness to her family's slaughter at the hands of the Nazis. It is her cinema where everything comes to an explosive head.

This is a movie that is a joy to watch unfold. Quentin Tarantino has a wonderful knack for structuring a movie in just the right way to give large casts enough screen time while taking you down side streets and alleyways while never losing track of the main story. He also knows that it is all right to allow scenes to breathe. You can let the characters talk for a long period of time, you do not have to cut every half second. This is evidenced by the opening sequence, where we first meet Col. Landa as he interrogates a dairy farmer suspected of hiding Jews. It is a fantastic scene that draws the viewer in and sets up what is to come.

The performances are fine all the way through. They are not characters of the real world; there is only one place where they could exist — in a Tarantino movie. They are played big, with just a hint of subtlety; they approach the edge of parody but never make the jump. Brad Pitt is loud Southern boy who manages to survive despite all odds without ever losing his swagger. Melanie Laurent ably takes the reins of our leading lady, powerful in the face of great personal danger, flirting with disaster in the most literal sense. Then there is Christoph Waltz, the evil, slimy Hans Landa. His performance is one for the books. He is charismatic, captivating, and just so utterly evil. He brings a high level of intelligence to the role and he knows it. It is hard to look away.

The supporting cast is filled with folks who fit in nicely and add much to the Tarantino flavor. This includes the likes of Eli Roth (in his first substantial acting performance), Diane Kruger, BJ Novak, Samm Levine, Michael Fassbender, Til Schweiger, and Daniel Bruhl.

I am not sure anyone but Tarantino could have brought this to the big screen, at least in this fashion. It features a large cast, a non-linear story broken into chapters, long scenes filled with dialogue, a highly stylized look and delivery, and other things that just don't get done. No one can turn a phrase like he can. It is a movie that really delivers on almost every level.

Bottom line. Visceral, funny, dramatic, and flat out entertaining. He may take forever between movies, but he makes them count. No one makes films like he does, and this is proof positive.

Highly Recommended.

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