Lester's Review of Inglourious Basterds
"You know somethin', Utivich? I think this might just be my masterpiece."
Eli Roth's performance as The Bear Jew is almost comically terrible. With that out of the way, Inglourious Bastards is far and away Quentin Tarantino's greatest achievement. Not to suggest that I wasn't a fan of his previous films, but it captures all of the standard quirks you could expect out of a Tarantino picture without the callous, video-store-clerk artifice of his past work. It's unabashedly original, genuinely thrilling, constantly engaging, surprisingly challenging, and one of the best movies of the decade. I really never thought I would ever say that.
I hate to say that this is a much more mature effort than QT's previous films since a lot of the stuff that bugs people about him are still here. There's the constant mashing together of disparate genres and themes that's exactly what you would expect from a cinephile like Tarantino, who seems to flaunt his geekdom in any way he could, which ruins his work sometimes. There's the drawn-out dialogue between characters you shouldn't really feel too comfortable being with. There's even some of that signature foot fetish nonsense to add to his auteur checklist. I guess what I'm saying is that if none of his movies did it for you in the past, you probably won't like this one, either.
But then also, this is the first movie I've seen from Tarantino (and I've seen them all) where it doesn't seem like the characters are doing the talking for him, that the characters are more than just Tarantino in costume just getting his usual BS in. At worst, his dialogue is punishingly aimless, and at best, it builds an incredible deal of tension through lots of subtext and subtle confrontation that's teetering off the edge of a cliff. Two examples from this film come to mind quickly. The opening scene between officer Landa (played by Christoph Watlz, who is as good as everyone is saying he is) and the dairy farmer is easily one of the greatest movie-within-a-movies of the decade. And then there's the bar scene with, again, Landa and the German Basterds.
Both scenes end with the signature Tarantino violence, but it's incredibly fast and brutal, and not at all crowd-pleasing. Inglourious Basterds is interesting compared to other movies (even war films I actually enjoy like Saving Private Ryan) in that it gives the Nazis intelligence and depth, a sense of humanity out of what could have easily been caricatures. Hans Landa is conniving and confrontational, in the end setting up a brilliant plan to be granted immunity (almost) scot-free. Conversely, the Basterds are portrayed as psychopaths who crave killing. As a result, the big crescendo of the film, the movie theater scene, is even more unnerving and brutal than the previous acts of violence; Shosanna laughing with glee from the beyond the grave, while the Basterds sadistically shoot up the movie theater with demented looks on their faces. Even if they're killing people who deserve it and they're doing it for all the right reasons, there's nothing to be lauded or celebrated here. QT probably knows the fist-pumping instinctual delight the audience will experience with this scene, but then the rest of the movie pulls them back to the reality that, yes, these people are human. That's a level of morality that's conveyed so incredibly well that I don't think I've seen in any other Tarantino film.
So yeah, Inglourious Basterds is the best movie I've seen this year, and clearly Tarantino's best in terms of range, pacing, dialogue....pretty much every category imaginable. His passion for the art of cinema is downright infectious and it shows in this movie, the way he picks a Godard trick here, combines genres there, sticks an homage there, plucks a reference of two there; it doesn't feel like he's replicating as much as he's recontexualizing all of these cinematic elements he has soaked up over the years. The result is a visionary work that feels fresh, new, vital, and exciting. Definitely see it.