Sunday, August 23, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds appealed to me from the very first trailer I viewed. The limited scenes of Brad Pitt cast as a gritty countrified team leader of a band of Jewish Americans chosen to hunt and kill gnat-zees piqued my interest immediately. Often, trailers are a tease, often giving viewers the best two minutes in the movie, but falling far short of the hype. I am happy to report that Inglourious Basterds manages to maintain the sharp dialogue and exceptional acting visible in the trailers for the entire 153 minute duration of the film. It really did not fell like a two and a half hour movie.

Inglourious Basterds takes certain liberties with the real history of World War II to bring us the story of a misfit part-Apache Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). Al-do is tasked with training a team to drop behind enemy lines in France, where they ruthlessly kill and maim German soldiers. Their reputation as vicious killers quickly spreads amongst the German soldiers. When a twist of fate has Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) holding his film premiere at a French Theater, several plot lines head toward a collision course. The theater owner, Shoshonna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) had escaped four years earlier from the brutal "Jew Hunter" Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz). Colonel Landa ends up running security for the premiere. The star of the premiere, Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) is smitten with the beautiful Shoshonna, whose attempts to rebuff him are futile. A famous German actress, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), who works as a double-agent, has agreed to get the Basterds into the premiere so they can kill the Nazis...while Shoshonna has developed her own plan. The elements are carefully constructed culminating in a climax with an interesting but enjoyable twist at the end. So, Tarantino took liberties with history to devlier an action-packed and incredibly fun (and violent) was worth it.

One thing I enjoy about Quentin Tarantino films is the dialogue. It is easy to get hung up on expressions or langauge that are comfortable. Tarantino doesn't find comfort zones, he challenges them. That gives Tarantino an open palate upon which to create his characters and dialogue. The characters are unique and intersting (although maybe a bit one-dimensional). But the dialogue is rich with intersting expressions and exceptional one-liners. The film had elements of graphic novel and spaghetti western thrown in to create a very unique look and feel that had Tarantino written all over it. Even the plot managed to catch me looking the other way. I guessed the ending about one minute before it happened.

Growing up, my favorite actor was Clint Eastwood (I was happy to see his Gran Torino earlier this year...likely his last film). I have never adjusted my icon for another Hollywood hero. I finally find myself seriously considering replacing Eastwood with Brad Pitt. I know the girls like Pitt simply because he's Brad Pitt. I have been a fan of Pitt's work, but his latest films have shown an incredible adaptability and range. In Inglourious Basterds, Pitt has outdone himself. I would never have read the script for this film and thought...that sounds like an excellent role for Brad Pitt. I would have looked for an older, grittier actor like the guys from the Dirty Dozen. Someone cast in the mold of Charles Bronson. Brad Pitt hit this one out of the park. He was unbelievably credible as the tough-as-nails ruthlessly violent Lieutenant. Bravo, Brad.

After slathering on that kind of praise for Pitt's performance, would it be fair for me to claim that Pitt was, at times, upstaged by the exceptionally deviant performance of Waltz as Colonel Landa? Where Pitt showed broad appeal, Landa brought scheming trickery layered with a heavy dose of self-preservation. The vile back-stabbing brand of preservation. Waltz was uncanny at times, combining cunning and violence to create a character that was the eseence of dishonor. Waltz was equally superb in this film. I was surprised to Mike Meyers in the film, in a cameo as British OSS or Military Intelligence. I thought Meyers might bring some comedy to the role, but his part was rather small and knock on his performance. Sgt Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) gets his own "back story" in this film. Schweiger was a credibly ruthless Nazi killer. The cast was superb top to bottom.

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