Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino likes dialogue. And feet. But mostly dialogue. This is a fact which anyone who's followed his formidable career path is aware of, yet one which we're all too predisposed to forget. After Kill Bill, in which action was at the forefront - for the first half, anyway - people seemed to have replaced any actual knowledge of his work with an image of him as an artier Michael Mann; a director whose sophisticated framework was there primarily to have elaborate action scenes draped over it. It was this which led people to assume that this would be a shoot-'em-up genre pastiche in which his specialty - scriptwriting - would be limited to a screenplay with increasingly large-fonted BANGs. Indeed, as it has been since Reservoir Dogs, the action scenes are superb; here, however, they are few and far between - the burst after the crecendo of what the film actually takes its delight in. What we have instead is the return, and return to centre stage at that, of Quentin Tarantino's love of dialogue. And feet.

Here, the scenes are extended dialogues, often spilling across different languages, with the characters using their wits to try and outsmart or outmaneuver their enemies in a manner closer to that of a spy movie than to the World War II shooters or Spaghetti Westerns it was supposedly based on. The emphasis on dialogue allows Tarantino's interesting, colourful characters to be deftly explored and fleshed out, detailing their personalities in ways that spill over the limits of the archetypes they represent; the Nazi, the Femme Fatale, the All-American Warrior. These aren't archetypes anyone expects to see a multi-dimensional portrayal of, given the predeliction amongst World War II movies of portraying the conflict itself as a one-dimensional good-vs.-evil showdown. And it's here where we get onto the main point of the film; propaganda.

World War II is a classic case of a conflict of black and grey morality. This is a war where one side committed the Holocaust (In my opinion, the worst thing humanity has ever done) and the other was the only side ever to drop a nuclear bomb offensively, and onto a civilian conurbation, with intent to be used on more (A good contender for the second worst thing humanity has ever done). However, most large-scale films of WWII have, understandably, taken a side; all Germans are explicitly Nazi death machines, all Allies are chiselled wads of machismo bandaging up their dramatically convenient gunshot wounds with their home flags being the norm. However, here, this is toyed with; a film largely based around the premier of Josef Goebbles's latest propaganda film, depicts a war hero, playing himself, gunning down hoards of Allied troops, is itself about soldiers shooting up a bunch of Nazis. Both the German audience in-film, and we, at home, thoroughly enjoy the scenes where this is happening. In the meantime, the film is working overtime to make us find the Nazis sympathetic and intriguing; see Cristoph Waltz' superb turn as SS Colonel Hans Landa, Daniel Bruhl as the earnest Private Zoller, Richard Sammel as an uncomfortably tragic villain in an early scene, and Alexander Fehling as a young Private celebrating the birth of his first child. The Basterds, on the other hand, commit war crimes and are, by any sincere definition terrorists; yet they too are likable. The film challenges us about the use of film to demonise enemies, making it the most explicit entry into the canon of Tarantino's films about films. And in this sense, it does what none of his other genre-inspired works have done, and make a genuine, perceptive comment on the genre and on the mindset of the people watching it.

On top of all that heavy stuff, it's great fun on the surface too. The dialogue scenes are tense and complex, the action scenes range from shocking to fist-pumpingly awesome, every performance is stunning (including one from, of all people, Eli Roth!), the comedy works great, the melancholy works even better, and the entire film is pulled off with a scale and complexity which could be too much for one film and a watchability that can only be achieved by a director who knows how to pull that scale and complexity off. It's also the final collaboration between Tarantino and Sally Menke, his long-time editor, so now's as good a time as any to start paying attention to the hard work that goes into that particular job. I personally hugely enjoyed this film, and I suspect that you will find something to enjoy in it too.


  1. This is why I don't let you lecture me after we watch a movie ;)
    Loving the blog, but not so much the username...I know Beecher have reformed, but that doesn't make them relevant :P
    ily xoxox

  2. Beecher have always been relevant. You can tell because they're AWESOME.
    And there are other things we do after watching a movie is why you don't let me lecture you... ;D