Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

When detailing the difference between thrill and suspense, Hitchcock summed it up best.  Two guys are in an office, chatting about baseball for nearly five minutes, suddenly, the room explodes; that’s thrill.  Same scenario: Two guys are in an office, chatting about baseball, suddenly we cut to under the desk, where we see a bomb whose timer reads five minutes, the guys continue talking normally for a while, suddenly, the room explodes; that’s suspense. 

To my deepest recollection, I cannot think of a scene from any film that fuses Hitchcock’s notions of thrill and suspense together better than the first scene of Quentin Tarantino’s marvelous, determined new film Inglourious Basterds.

Set in Nazi-occupied France, Inglourious Basterds is a fresh, albeit fantasized, version of the last Great War.  Brad Pitt is Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of a Jewish group of badasses set out to get even with Nazi scum.  Raine’s message, if you can decipher it through Pitt’s hilariously befuddled backwords-ass-redneck-chargin, is simple: their gonna be killin’ NAZ-ehhs. 

But wait, as is often with a Tarantino film, the “main” character is hardly main at all, in fact, Pitt is absent for several scenes at a time.  But not in vain.  In his place are a slew of other well-defined Tarantino characters.  A timid movie theatre owner who sees a chance to change the world, a German actress set on deceiving her side, and a Nazi officer so miraculously evil and comically menacing, that the actor playing him, Christoph Waltz, is destined to be remembered come Oscar time.  Waltz (who won best actor for this role at the Cannes Film Festival in May) is a name you’re going to remember.  He’s what makes that first scene work so seamlessly.

I don’t want to indulge too much of the plot, but needless to say, all of these characters will run into each other at some point, much to their dismay but to our delight.  Having said that, Inglourious Basterds is like, and unlike, any film Tarantino has done before.  Sure you can expect his long-winded dialogue that seems to go nowhere, then out of the blue, with one line or even a single word, the entire conversation comes into focus.  Sure it’s violent, but not nearly as gruesome as his previous work.  And yes, you can expect a pulp-pleasant soundtrack to fit the visual images perfectly.

But how this film differs form the rest of QT’s resume is what makes it a marvel. Be warned: the scenes in Inglourious Basterds are quite long.  Characters verbally meander about milk, movies, maps, scalps, and so on.  But it’s evident that for this film, Tarantino has taken direct influence from Stanley Kubrick.  Kubrick, known for his painstakingly long scenes, always knew the precise moment to end a scene.  Right after a brilliant, unassuming line of dialogue, BOOM, Kubrick would cut to a new conversation, with new characters, in a completely different setting.  It’s what made Kubrick, Kubrick.  And here, I’m happy to say, that's what makes Tarantino, Tarantino.

Is Inglourious Basterds better than Pulp Fiction?  Of course not (but for my money, most films aren’t.)  In fact, I’m not sure if Inglourious Basterds is the film to convert Tarantino novices into Tarantino fanatics.  (Case in point: this film isn’t a history lesson, you’re in Tarantino’s world, so roll with it).  But, if you’re already a Tarantino fan, get ready to have your socks knocked off.  Either way, you’re in for the most thrilling, enjoyable Hollywood film of the season.  A


  1. Beautifully written review. That movie is next on my list of movies to see.

  2. Ah when I think about this movie my heart literally feels like it is going to pop out of my chest. The suspense was so intense that I found myself with mild anxiety through out the movie.

    I can't even write down everything I want to say about it right now. So I will be back Thursday after I see it again.

    Let me just say...nice comparison to Hitchcock though. I didn't even think of that but the stark contrast in the film plus the suspense was very much like him.

    Also the way he put a spin on history was so interesting. & as a student of history I wasn't bothered by it at all.

  3. I loved this film. Tarantino doesn't really ever misstep... but he has some movies that you'd be interested to rewatch more than the others. I think this is the former.

    While Christoph Waltz was great, it was Mélanie Laurent who really made this one exciting for me. Her story is the core of the thing, and the matched it perfectly.

    1. Just rewatched this four days ago. My girlfriend had never seen a QT film. Took her to Django, she loved it, so I've been catching her up on the rest of his brilliant filmography. Anyway, love the hell out off this one too. No, it's not was rewatchable as Res Dogs or Pulp, but it is a marvelous feat. And I agree about Laurent, what a talent. She deserved an Oscar nom.

      Because you said that about her, I really think you'd dig this post of mine!

  4. I'm going to rewatch IB this week. We'll see.

    I watched Django yesterday, and I liked it. But I specifically noticed that it didn't have the contemplative quiet scene, and that knocked it down half a peg in QT's oeuvre for me. It seems like Jackson and DiCaprio could have shared one in the library.

    Still a fun 2:45 the whole way, though!

    1. Hmm, you know, I never even thought about that. But you're right.

      Now I can't get that out of my head. Ha. You're also right, the library could've paved way for a great one.

  5. Yeah, right? BOTH of them sitting there trying to THINK about what is actually going on, instead of one explaining to the other would have been signature QT. Speaking wasn't necessary to the audience - they already understand the setup.

    (I like all of them, but the shot in Jackie Brown is my favorite - absolutely masterful.)

    1. Old Ordell Robbie, sitting and thinking, trying to put it all together.

      "..........It's Jackie Brown."