Monday, August 31, 2009
QT's return to form
Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, Mike Myers, BJ Novak and the voice of Samuel L. Jackson.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino.
QT's best movie since Pulp Fiction. I admit I was wavering on Quentin lately. Death Proof was okay, but he let his ego stretch Grindhouse to a 3-hour 15-minute movie which not enough people felt like sitting through. I really enjoyed the setup in Kill Bill Vol. 1 only to feel let down by the execution of Kill Bill Vol. 2. Jackie Brown was good, not great. Wow, has he done anything else? Four Rooms? One scene from Sin City...
Anyway, I'm glad he's back behind the camera. He pays homage to every movie style imaginable and makes it his own. He elevates pulp to art through sheer enthusiasm. He also knows that crisp dialogue and subtext can be more suspenseful than gore, though he ain't shy about his gore.
Sergio Leone's been one of his biggest influences, and the opening chapter "Once Upon a Time ... in Nazi-Occupied France" is a clear nod. But it's also a Leone-esque scene, one that would do the spaghetti-western maestro proud. It kicks off with SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a self-absorbed "Jew Hunter" who loves his job and knows how to break down his prey's defenses with Chessire-grinned chatter. We see him come from a long way off. We feel his danger thanks to the eyes of those to whom he speaks, and yet he converses as though he's as harmless as a butterfly.
Chapter Two brings us to the basterds. Brad Pitt is Lt. Aldo Raine, a gruff Tennessean who's found eight Jewish-Americans to help him hunt down and kill as many Nazis as they can. Their methods are not civil, as one specializes in beating them to death with a baseball bat.
This subplot was the only one that bugged me. Not one basterd at any time shows any remorse or disgust or even hesitation that what they're doing is dehumanizing or sick or anything. Yes, Nazis are example #1 of an evil army, but I felt sorry for the Nazis after a while. QT has rewritten history to turn Jews into Nazis and Nazis into Jews. There's historical reports of Nazis killing Jews in brutal fashion, of Nazis locking Jews into buildings and burning them alive, of Nazis carving Stars of David into Jewish foreheads. Here it's the Nazis dying in brutal fashion, Nazis being burned alive, Nazis having swastikas carved into their foreheads. When I think of Aldo and his eight Jews, of the ones that survive, I pondered what kind of lives they could possibly live back home after the war when they were one-note monsters during it.
The basterds don't have as big a role as I thought they would. It wouldn't surprise me to learn if one or two of them didn't have any lines in the movie.
The other subplot involved Shoshana Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish young woman whose family was killed by the Nazis, and she's now reinvented herself as a French cinema owner. When the Reich decides to premier Joseph Goebbels' latest propaganda film at her place, she develops a plan to get revenge.
Acting-wise, the stand-outs for me were Waltz and Laurent. QT has a history of making stars out of unknowns and reviving the careers of those considered past their prime. (Travolta was on his last Look Who's Talking sequel before Pulp Fiction came along). I see long careers ahead of these two.
And I reckon we'll hear from that Brad Pitt feller fer a spell as well.