Monday, 28 January 2013

Film Review | Inglourious Basterds (2009)

If the 1990s defined Quentin Tarantino as one of the finest directing talents of modern cinema, then the first decade of the 21st Century showed that he is also one of the most unpredictable. The director's '90s trifecta - Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown - all feel decidedly complete, whilst at the same time  exhibiting shared themes and an unmistakable style to the point that all three films arguably take place in the same universe. In contrast, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by definition are two halves of one long and bloody epic story that inhabit their own world, whilst Death Proof is an esoteric love letter to a film-making and cinema-going style of yesteryear which shared more than just a double billing with Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror. Inglourious Basterds is arguably therefore Tarantino's first and only stand-alone film of the 2000s when measured against his 20th Century output. In many ways it signifies a new direction for Tarantino, with a quasi-historical context and a multilingual script. But this is also undeniably a Tarantino film, and moreover one which redefines the director as a breathtakingly skilled auteur.

From its opening prologue-like sequence, Inglourious Basterds is a film which commands your attention. Cinematically this is Tarantino's most mature work, with expertly crafted sequences that segue through historical drama, spaghetti western, romantic melodrama and exploitation with a refinement surpassing even the director's most acclaimed works. Every shot is a work of art, but two sequences within the film stand out as possibly the best ever seen from Tarantino. The first is the opening chapter, exuding quality and making an immediate statement through the subtitled French dialogue and beautiful yet sinister wartime countryside setting: this is at once the director not only away from his usual backdrops, but also out of his comfort zone, and yet making a masterpiece of every moment.

The opening scenes also introduce one of Tarantino's, and indeed cinema's, greatest ever character creations in Colonel Hans Landa, played to perfection by Christoph Waltz. The actor's performance is sublime to the point of being almost indescribable, creating an immensely complex and yet starkly straightforward personality it is impossible not to simultaneously despise and be awestruck by. Every moment Waltz is on screen is pure cinematic pleasure, with his introduction as "The Jew Hunter" of the SS in the film's opening one of the finest moments Tarantino, or in fact any director, has committed to celluloid.

As perfect as the film's prologue is, Tarantino's crowning achievement within Inglourious Basterds is undeniably the scene set in "La Louisiane", a basement bar at which a liaison between German double agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), undercover Brit Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) and two of the Basterds takes place. The entire scene is laced with tension, and is so finely crafted as to be a microcosmic movie contained within the main film's narrative.

Whilst this may feel like one of Tarantino's more uneven works tonally - consider how far the film changes from its quietly controlled, dramatic opening to its hyperreal, ultraviolence-fuelled finale - that's not to say that the film falters in between the moments highlighted. Tarantino commands the film's multi-plotted narrative as a virtuoso conductor does a concerto through his perfectly-assembled orchestra of superb acting talents, many of whom are bold choices being unknown to English-speaking audiences plucked as they are from European cinema. So high is the quality of the casting and performances throughout that even Eli Roth's subpar turn as Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz is forgivable.

Inglourious Basterds is a tour de force from Tarantino: a rip-roaring war epic which straddles genres, delivering entertainment, emotion and extreme violence whilst showing off the director's supreme talent behind the camera in the same way as his early work that first caught popular attention. This may be harder for audiences to take to their hearts in the same way as they did, say, Pulp Fiction, but Inglourious Basterds more than deserves to go down as a true Tarantino classic.


No comments:

Post a Comment