Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Inglourious Basterds

Way back in 2009 before I ever contemplated blogging I watched this little ditty in theaters. It was in August that I watched it. Just me and a friend hanging out for one one final hurrah. We were both graduated and high school wasn't the way we could socialize anymore. It was weird having to actually spend money to hang out with someone instead of just doing so while going about the day through classes.

At this time I didn't have a job and I wasn't in college. So money was precious. I'm not ever sure if a college semester had started by then or if this movie was before or after my college orientation. But college had kind of slipped through my grasp and I was left on a seemingly interminable summer vacation. 

This would be the last movie I would see for three years in theaters before a period of time I kind of refer to as my "hikikomori years." Or my "NEET years." Although I'll always be a NEET and a hikikomori at heart, employment status or education status be damned. 

Two nights ago I decided to pull out this movie for the first time in a few years. This was only the third time I had seen it. In a way it was a lot like seeing an old friend. Inglourious Basterds (a Western wearing a WWII uniform if ever there was one) seems to be making its way a bit higher on my list of favorite movies each time. 

You should know the basic story by now, but if you don't then I'll give you a rundown. 

Story one: Shosanna's family was killed by German soldiers led by Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) of the SS in 1941, but three years later she is in charge of a theater and meets the famous German soldier Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). Through this meeting Shosanna not only gets a chance to get revenge against the Nazis, but she also gets a chance to end the war.

Story two: The Basterds are a group led by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) that make life hell for Nazis. They scalp Nazis and get their kicks doing so. However, the Basterds get the chance at the ultimate Nazi scalps when they learn that all of the heavy hitters of the Third Reich are going to have a night at the movies for the newest Fredrick Zoller film.

These stories are told in four successive chapters and eventually intertwine in the fifth one. 

Classic Tarantino exposition, in other words.

In 2009 I was expecting this to be the movie that could be Brad Pitt's defining acting effort, but I was frustrated that the character of Aldo Raine was nothing more than supporting character. Sure, Pitt got top billing and yes, he had a ton of great lines and a cool introductory speech about scalping Nazis, but it was undoubtedly Christoph Waltz that stole the thunder from him. I disliked Christoph Waltz more because the guy was so damn talented and I hadn't known about him before than for his actual character being a dick. Weird, huh? I knew about Daniel Bruhl from previous German movies and he was certainly no disappointment in this movie. I expected Daniel Bruhl to be good. But where the fuck did Christoph Waltz even come from? Why hadn't I heard of him before? It was aggravating. I know that sounds terrible, but that was my first impression of this movie and it wasn't even really about this movie. Inglourious Basterds frustrated me simply because it made me realize how little I really knew about the cinematic world. 

Christoph Waltz gave a performance for the ages as Hans Landa. There were a lot of great performances in this movie (although Eli Roth's wasn't among them), but Christoph Waltz did for Inglourious Basterds what a lot of people thought Heath Ledger did for The Dark Knight. This movie could very well have been made without Waltz, but Waltz's talents brought this movie into the stratosphere.

Bruhl was good. Pitt was great. Waltz was awe-inspiring. Not only was Waltz speaking German, English, and French convincingly as if it was natural (which it all most certainly is), but he even spoke a bit of Italian. However, it isn't just his linguistic expertise that brought his character to life, but his actual ability to actually become Hans Landa of the SS.

Just the way his character eats a strudel or smokes a pipe is fascinating. Landa always seems like he is plotting something. I think Tarantino even said in an interview that every scene with Landa is akin to an interrogation and he seems to know when everyone is trying to bullshit him. Landa is the definition of intimidation.

It's not only some clever bit of writing on Tarantino's part, but some devilish bit of acting, too. Waltz deserved his Oscar without any doubt. A lesser actor could not have managed the role.

However, Waltz isn't the only bright spot in this film.

Michael Fassbender has a small, but brilliant role as Archie Hicox. Diane Kruger is also great as Bridget von Hammersmark. Martin Wuttke is a very serviceable Hitler. Hitler doesn't really get portrayed a lot in American films so it's tough to really compare him to any other performance of Hitler. I believe this is the only time I've seen Hitler be more than just a menacing name in a WWII movie and actually be a speaking character. By my limited estimation Wuttke does a very serviceable job, though.

But I think my favorite supporting role is that of Melanie Laurent's Shosanna Dreyfus. Her performance was criminally underrated.

Hmm, do I have anything else to ramble on about. Well, I suppose there's something to be said about the "revenge fantasy" part of the movie. Some folks didn't agree that it was right to make a group of Jewish killers or that it was right to tweak history just to make Tarantino's vision come true.

I don't have a problem with this movie on any moral level, though. It isn't anti-German, anti-Semitic, or any other kind of "anti-." I noticed that in the scene where the Bear Jew gets to crack open a German soldier's skull that the German soldier actually appeared to be quite a proper soldier. He went out honorably and the subsequent bashing of his brains by the Bear Jew put a dissonant note into what was supposed to be "the good guys kicking ass." There was definitely an underlying message in that scene as well as in the entire movie and I think the overall message is something similar.

And Tarantino didn't violate any laws in his attempt to have the Third Reich taken down in a movie theater by enemy hands. Hitler wasn't punished during the Nuremberg Trials so I can't say I blame Tarantino for wanting to cash in on the "I wish that fucker hadn't killed himself" thought that just about everyone thinks, but even in the future the Third Reich will continue to be taken down in movies whether Tarantino is directing or not. Tarantino certainly did nothing wrong.

If anything (to misquote Aldo Raine) this could very well be Tarantino's masterpiece.

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