"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Inglourious Basterds - Graphic but Good

Meet the Inglorious Bastards, er, the Inglourious Basterds: a quintessential Quentin Tarantino clan (see also Reservoir Dogs) helmed by an accent-affected Brad Pitt. Pitt, who plays a sort of Tennessean hillbilly, is the ringleader of the group of mostly Jewish-American soldiers whose aim is to kill — specifically by scalping — Nazis. It's as disgusting as it sounds, but the film is not all gory and the Basterds are only one in a series of interwoven stories. In fact, Brad Pitt and his band of men are each in fewer than half of the movie's chapters. Yes, there is violence but the biggest tone of the movie is artfully crafted tension that left me holding my breath, wondering where the action was going to come from next.

At its core, the film has the violent tendencies you'd expect from writer/director Tarantino. It's incredibly graphic and gory, but it's peppered with moments of genuine humor (albeit of the dark variety) with just a small dash of romance. In this regard, Basterds is very much like his classic film Pulp Fiction, but topically, the two couldn't be more different.

The movie begins with an incredible and very intense scene between a Nazi colonel (played by Christopher Waltz) and French countryman Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet). It sets up the tone of the film perfectly, while introducing one of the most chilling villains I've ever seen on the big screen, played superbly by Waltz. The vignette could stand alone as a short film, and doesn't quite blend in with the rest of the movie, but it will be what stays with you long after you've walked out of the theater. The rest of Basterds fast-forwards a few years, but I haven't seen the last of the first scene's survivors.

Elsewhere, Aldo Raine (Pitt) is prepping his troops to drop into Europe and kill as many Nazis as possible — he wants each solider to gather 100 scalps. Based on some of the more graphic scenes, the mission is a success. Most of their work takes place off-screen but their influence is clear when a bumbling Hitler and his high ranking official start trembling in their boots. As the Basterds' popularity rises, they're presented with an opportunity that ropes in famous actress and spy Bridget von Hammrsmark (Diane Kruger). The movie is building up to a climactic movie premiere, but unbeknownst to the Basterds, they're not the only ones plotting.

This, for me, is when the movie really starts getting good. Firstly, based on her relatively small résumé, I was not expecting to be so blown away by Kruger. She's simply stunning in her role including carrying one of the longest and most intense scenes. Pitt also pulls off the necessary swagger and bravado that goes with his ringleader role. When these two get together the screen seems to warm to their combined presence. Both Pitt and Kruger also add to the element of humor in the film, which is clear throughout all 2.5 hours of it.

It's hard to talk much more about the plot without spoilers, but it's one of the most satisfying — and quite frankly, entertaining and thought-provoking — movies I've seen in some time. If you can stomach the violence, the film is worth its weight in gold (or blood).

No comments: