Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

I’m not going to lie, when I first read the screenplay for Inglorious Basterds, I didn’t get it, that simple. I mean I really didn’t get it. Sinking pit in my stomach didn’t get it. Calling up friends with connections to make sure it was legitimate didn’t get it. This was it? This was the great Tarantino war epic? A movie that just went ahead and seemed to skip all the good parts? That placed it’s Basterds in Nazi Occupied France reign of terror underway, all in the space of a single cut? This was the end result of ten years of permutations, rumor and speculation, of a script that once was rumored to run 500 pages. And what we got out of it was this?

Things didn’t exactly increase my confidence as time went on. As first Leonardo DiCaprio, and then Simon Pegg dropped out. Mike Myers dropped in. Which was followed by the announcement that David Bowie’s theme from Cat People would play a major role. And then the Cannes reviews. Then watching the trailers cut for a movie a knew didn’t exist. The cumulative result was that by the time, I walked into the theater last night, I was fully expecting not to like A Quentin Tarantino movie. Something that hasn’t happened since Four Rooms.

Let’s just say, I get it now.

Inglorious Basterds is a great movie, it has scenes as intense as any I’ve ever seen, an ending that left me literally shaking, and performances that range from genius to super genius. This might be hyperbole, but damn it, this is the kind of movie that inspires hyperbole. Let cooler heads prevail later.

It’s funny that I brought up Four Rooms because that’s really the movie that Basterds reminds me of. It’s more like a collection of five short films which feature reoccurring characters then a single narrative front. This coincidently seems to be the charge that bothers most of the movies critics the most; that it never congeals into a single piece. Normally I would be of the mind to agree, but how can I when each of the pieces is so satisfying, so tense, so utterly put together. It’s as though Tarantino has made Reservoir Dogs five times in a single movie. Putting the viewer through five separate roller coasters, playing them like a piano in the best Hitchcockian sense.

When I read the script I couldn’t imagine Inglorious Basterds being this way, now I can’t imagine another element being different.

Take Christopher Waltz, who more or less steals the movie. I was looking forward, to Di Caprio taking on the roll. It would have been a canny subversion, both of Leo’s golden boy status, and his aristocratic “one step ahead of it all” smarm. It would have been on of those great Tarantino movie star performances in which he simultaneously encapsulates and subverts an actor’s appeal. I was deeply disappointed when he dropped out and Waltz dropped in.

Of course Waltz proved to be utterly brilliant proving once again I’m wrong about oh so many things. Rather then being a John Travolta/Pam Grier/David Carradine/Kurt Russell performance, we get a great Zoe Bell/Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction one. An introduction to a new character who is defiantly themselves. An instant induction to the movie geek lexicon.

All the attention on Waltz has kind of ended up stealing the thunder from Brad Pitt, who turns in another one of his INSANE performances that make him such a valuable actor. BONJERNO!!! The most unappetizing plate of Strudel ever filmed. Eli Roth somehow menacing and insane. Even the Goddamn David Bowie song works perfectly. And that final image on Shoshana’s “screen”, somewhere beyond haunting.

I walked into Inglorious Basterds, expecting a failure, or at the very best a qualified success. I walked out with the kind of twitchy adrenaline that left me unable to sleep until four in the morning, the kind of feeling only the best movies give you. Now you’ll excuse me if I cut this column short, there’s a three o clock showing I need to make.

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