Sunday, 13 September 2009

Inglourious Basterds (2009) (+ Inglorious Bastards 1978)

Let me say upfront that I did like Quentin Tarantino's latest movie and happily watched the unnecessarily long two and a half hours that it lasted, for the various good points it provided. However that is not to say that I didn't find it overly leisurely or free from more than a modicum of self-indulgence on the part of a very self-important director.

The best thing about the film, as others have mentioned, was the discovery of a formerly little-known Austrian TV actor Christoph Waltz in the multi-lingual role of Landa 'The Jew Hunter' who becomes this generation's Von Stroheim (trademark: "The man you love to hate"). He was the personification of all that was evil about Nazi Germany, but so charming with it. I do not doubt that he now has a spectacular career ahead. The big problem is that the remainder of the cast which was reasonably well-chosen seem overshadowed by his performance. The French actress Melanie Laurent runs him a close second in her role of the Jewish woman who saw her family slaughtered by Landa's men, who is now living under a Christian pseudonym and running a Parisian cinema where the action reaches its finale. As for the big-name draw, Brad Pitt, I found his performance mildly embarrassing -- although part of that was down to the supposedly redneck character he was playing -- to the extent that horror director Eli Roth as his 'Jew-Bear' sidekick (a man I normally detest for unrelated reasons) was marginally more tolerable. Much of the other celebrity casting, especially the cameos for Mike Myers and Rod Taylor, struck me as a waste of time. Even the normally superb Michael Fassbender was in many ways superfluous here. At least we can be grateful that QT resisted giving himself an appearance.

The film is a revisionist view of World War II with only the use of various languages being a nod to realism. I did wonder briefly why part-Apache Pitt should have been put in charge of a group of eight American-Jewish renegade avengers, but decided that this was just another instance of Tarantino's poetic license and concept of vigilante justice. One could produce an argument however that the group's over-the-top violence is in the end no more justifiable than the Nazi top brass applauding the film-within-a-film of their hero Daniel Bruhl's slaughter of some 300 Allied soldiers. Anyhow the Basterds want to rewrite history and end the war by massacring the Nazi leadership at the cinema, while independently Laurent plots a concurrent disaster solely for revenge.

Tarantino's love of movies is not only demonstrated by the many cinema references throughout, but by having Fassbender's film critic, Diane Kruger's film-star, and Laurent's repertory cinema owner among the major players, and ironically having the final holocaust triggered by highly flammable nitrate film stock as the ultimate weapon -- a totally pleasing device. Pitt's last line of "I think this just might be my masterpiece" may imply QT's own assessment of his latest effort, but I choose to reserve judgment about this generally entertaining, but also deeply flawed entry.

For my own curiosity I thought it would be a wheeze to have a look at the earlier film from Italian director Enzo G. Castellari, which really only shares its title and whch has seen various edited releases under a number of alternate titles. Apparently Tarantino saw it a long time ago on television and relished a kind of secret oneupmanship that not many people knew about it and that this somehow made him special. Starring very minor actors Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten, and Fred Williamson, it is more of a "Dirty Dozen" scenario with a group of soldiers destined for a military prison escaping and reaping disproportionate havoc. Badly dubbed, except oddly for those characters speaking French or German, it is typical of the sort of film that used to be made with some frequency, but which fortunately is no longer in vogue (except if your name is Steven Seagal!).
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