INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS

1. I’ve never quite understood why people want Quentin Tarantino to make “serious” movies, to take a step away from his own obsessions and be more, you know, normal. We don’t openly embrace directors like Tarantino anymore, someone with the absolute freedom to follow his fixations down the rabbit hole; we wonder what’s wrong with them, why they can’t get with the program already. What’s funny is that Tarantino does change with every film: He, with each output, finds a new tool in his not-inconsiderable belt and embraces it like a child who discovers he’s capable of a new trick. With Inglourious Basterds, he spins off in wild, random directions, and yet keeps everything on track. This is a man who is profoundly in control of his instrument.

2. The movie is European in style, but not tone. It’s like Woody Allen’s recent jaunts across the pond; Tarantino might be driving from the passenger seat, but the sensibility is rock-jawed John Wayne American. The Yank characters feel more comfortably Tarantino; the Euros feel like the video-store geek staring at Truffaut films and imagining how cool it would be to live like that. What’s intriguing is how much more his heart seems to be in the scenes not involving the Basterds. This is Tarantino pushing himself, and it’s thrilling to watch. It’s almost charming, to watch him draw from Renoir and Resnais (and Truffaut, of course) in the same way he once lustily pilfered from chop-socky schlock. (I say that with love.) He has always been an obsessive catalogist of film history, but he’s painting here with a brush I didn’t know he possessed. (Though obviously, I should have.) A simple scene of Melanie Laurent smoking in a cafe is shot with the erotic fervor Tarantino usually reserves for feet.

3. Tarantino, as usual, is drawing from countless different influences, but, amusingly enough, this whole orgy of Anglo fetishism feels most cut from the Hitchcock cloth. His lengthy swaths of dialogue have always lingered menace under the surface, but he ratchets it up into something ungodly here. The opening scene, with the sinister, cockeyed Col. Hans Landa interrogating a French farmer he suspects (no, knows) is hiding Jews in his cellar, sets the tone, but the real set piece comes later with an endless game of verbal chess between undercover Allied spies, a German actress working against the Nazis, some drunk SS soldiers and one wary and terrifying SS officer who senses something’s up but can’t quite tell. Tarantino keeps finding ways to tighten the vice in a way even Hitchcock couldn’t have: You’ll want to scream. But not with delight. Tarantino is after something else here. He’s filtering faded horrors through his special cartoonish lens to dig to the initial evil beneath it all. All of Tarantino’s films, for all their supposedly glib polish, are serious; even when something is flip and Pop-ish, you never feel Tarantino sees that way. He’s not kidding; this ain’t funny to him. That he attaches this unique Tarantino deceptive sincerity to something with the import and weight of World War II and the Holocaust is breathtakingly audacious. That he pulls it off requires a demented magic.

4. Even those who are wary of Tarantino can’t deny his gift for casting, but he might have outdone himself here with Christoph Waltz, who plays the venal savant Nazi “detective.” Nazi Officer As Charming, Twisted Personification Of Evil is almost a trope at this point, but Waltz and Tarantino attack it in a weird perpendicular angle. Col. Landa is a thoroughly bizarre character, a tiny little man in boots who doesn’t even pretend to understand his own depravity, nor does he care to. He has no idea what he’s capable of doing next, and neither does the film; his unpredictability and cunning is established in the first scene and sets the tone. He, and the movie, could go anywhere. And they do. Tarantino’s casting is dead perfect across the board: Laurent has the most expressive, constantly calculating eyes as the vengeful Shosanna, Michael Fassbinder has a dashing Cary Grant quality, but darker, as a film buff British secret agent and, yeah, I even adored Brad Pitt’s ridiculous but sardonic Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of the Basterds. He’s having fun with the role … but he grounds it in the real world. He’s a perfect foil for Col. Landa, because, frankly, he could give too shits about his cunning and unpredictability. He’s just here to kill some Nazis.

5. I cannot possibly fathom what Tarantino is going to do next. I’m not sure he knows. Look at what he’s done here: He’s fashioned a rousing entertainment; he’s pursued his personal preoccupations; he’s paid homage to an oft-forgotten age of cinema; he’s made a global film with simple, clear insights into national character; he’s forced us look at much-malingered monstrocities with new eyes; he’s satisified our lust for a revenge fantasy; he’s painted characters we find ourselves shocked to care about; he’s left our jaws dropped at what he would even dare to try. There is absolutely no one like him. I think he’s capable of anything. It’s almost too much power for one filmmaker to have.

GRADE: A.

  1. ihaveregrets reblogged this from leitch
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  3. woahitsjuanito reblogged this from leitch and added:
    Truly a perfect review.
  4. leitch posted this