Sunday, September 06, 2009

As For Film: Inglourious Basterds


Next month, I'll probably be at the theater at least once a week. With Autumn comes the best movies of the year, and it's about damn time because this year has sucked so far. But it hasn't been all bad. In fact, there were some really good movies that were released over the course of the first 8 months of 2009. And even one great film.

Quentin Tarantino has a knack for making movies so stylish that you want to puke after ingesting half an hour of all-too-clever dialogue and bad-ass caricatures. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction put him in a genre unto himself, and he's already achieved legendary status as a modern filmmaker. But when you actually took his previous films for face value, there wasn't much there. It's hard to get past the stylishness. He always seemed to be more concerned with making something look cool than actually saying something of substance. And it only got worse with each film.

Kill Bill's revenge theme was barely satisfying for the bloodlusters, and Death Proof a little less so. But Inglorious Basterds does something Tarantino hasn't pulled off before. It makes you think. It challenges your morals and asks you to hate. It's not just a tale of revenge, it's outright human vice. You felt good at the end of Kill Bill and Death Proof, but that's because those films were about revenge. Inglourious Basterds isn't merely about revenge, so the ending doesn't make you want to cheer. This time around, he pulled off something a little more ambiguous.

Okay, I know all of this sounds like gushing. But I am not a QT fanboy. I've never really liked his movies that much actually. But his formula has finally clicked this time around. It's not just Mtv generation homage to exploitation films anymore, his patented style and talent has finally created an entirely unique thumbprint on the film world.

I saw Inglourious Basterds a few weeks ago, but I've been digesting it ever since. In the theater, it was one of the funnest movie-watching experiences I've ever had. The tension is built so masterfully through Tarantino's dialogue (the bar scene in particular is absolute genius). But the real thrill of Inglourious Basterds isn't the renegade troupe that the film takes its title from, but our sinister antagonist. Christoph Waltz deserves an Oscar nomination for his role as Col. Hans Landa. He speaks four different languages, each with a pensive charisma. The character may be Tarantino's best; complex isn't a strong of word to describe Landa's domineering performance. He receives the most screen time, and for good reason. This villain is hated, but undoubtedly respected. He's awesome.

I saw District 9 a few days later, because I heard that it was the best action movie of the summer. It was good. But it really didn't come close to Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino is able to do this funny thing: even if you really have to go to the bathroom and you've already been holding it for an hour and a half, you gladly sacrifice the health of your bladder for however long it will take for the suspense level to drop. The only break I got was a few seconds at five different points of the film, when it showed the name of the chapter. Everything else had me on the edge of my seat (and it wasn't just because I had to go to the bathroom either). It was so much fun to watch, I had no idea how deep in thought I'd be afterwards.

First, think about the role reversals. Vicious murderous Jews, killing Nazis. I guess that's the obvious one, but it's an interesting ethics story nevetheless. But what's most interesting about Inglourious Basterds is its self-awareness. It knows that it's a movie. Tarantino couldn't get away with the film's distressing statements if it wasn't, in fact, a movie.

Inglourious Basterds is about the power of film. And this is where Tarantino gets meta. For it is film that draws the Nazis into the theater to be massacred, and film is what makes it possible for us (the real audience) to see Adolf Hitler's face get loaded with bullets. It's a propaganda film for film itself.

The violence isn't as bad as you'd expect, and Brad Pitt is awesome (it should now be clear that if he's not doing a comedic role, he just shouldn't act). I'm happy to report that this is Tarantino's best work yet. If you're not generally a fan, this one might change your mind. Forget the ahistoric fantasies and controversial themes, this is a film for film-lovers. Tarantino really loves film, and his latest is definitive proof.

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