Saturday, July 16, 2011

Inglourious Basterds - Movie Review

Watched this highly acclaimed movie by Quentin Tantantino on HBO. It started off very quaintly with Chapter I, a lovely shot of a farmhouse somewhere in France during World War II (why am I getting all these Word War II movies?). The farmhouse owner (and his young daughters) are paid a visit by the Germans who have already occupied France. Leading the visit is Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, who to me was the star of the movie with a brilliant performance) popularly known as the 'Jew Hunter'. He quickly forces the farmer to show where the one Jew family in that area that is not accounted for is - they are hiding under the floorboards. Landa calls in his soldiers and makes them shoot through the floorboards killing all in the family except one - Shoshanna - a girl who manages to flee.

In Chapter II, a small group of US soldiers, jews all, led by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) a battle hardened American, is sent to France to infiltrate behind German lines and strike fear in German ranks. He makes his men pledge him a 100 German scalps each (he actually wants them to scalp them) to him. They go about their work in right earnest and earn a good name for bludgeoning German soldiers, knifing them and scalping them. For the ones who survive them, Aldo carves a swastika on their forehead as a mark of who they were. Their reputation goes far and wide, to Hitler's ears - they are known as the Basterds.

In subsequent chapters the Basterds head to Paris to carry out a strike at a cinema theatre where some of the top Nazi authorities including Goebbels are likely to be present for a premiere of a film glorifying the Nazis. The Americans and the British come up with a plan - a British actor playing a German officer is to meet a famous German actress who is also a spy, and finalise the details of the strike. The actress is to get the Basterds and the Englishman into the premiere. But in a shootout in the meeting place, where some German soldiers discover that the Englishman is an impostor and not a German officer, everyone is killed except the actress. Aldo Raine decides to go ahead with the actress to the theatre. Now there is a bonus - Hitler is attending the premiere.

The cinema theatre in Paris is now owned by the young Jew girl who ran away in Chapter I, now with a different name of course and legitimate papers. A German sniper, who acts in the film that is to be screened is smitten by her and gets Goebbels to host the premiere in this cinema. The girl decides to blow up the cinema by locking all the Germans inside and setting on fire all the film reels that are highly inflammable. She also cuts the movie reel and put in a small reel of her laughing at the audience and telling them how a Jew girl got her revenge.

Meanwhile the efficient Hans Landa quickly makes all the connections and kills off the actress inside the theatre just as the premiere is about to begin. He takes Aldo Raine hostage along with another Basterd and lets two others who are sitting in the theatre with bombs, alone. Landa strikes a deal for American citizenship, a house in Nantucket, pension etc in turn for letting the plan to bomb the theatre continue and end the war that very night.

At the theatre the girl is killed by the actor, the girl kills the actor, the girls lover blows up the reels, the two Basterds in the theatre fire and bomb away as Germans try to run out of the theatre but cannot as the doors are locked. The theatre is blown up and we assume that Hitler and Goebbels, Bormann and others perished in the fire. In the last scene as Landa takes the Americans to safety and what he thinks is freedom and a new life, Aldo carves a swastika on his forehead, his masterpiece, before they leave for America.

Christopher Waltz blew my mind away with a fantastic performance as Hans Landa. As he takes his role higher and higher one wonders how much better can he get. Exquisite. Pitt is perfect as the Southerner, Raine, the bloodthirsty, no nonsense, tough talking Apache. Tarantino takes the film through carefully and slowly and twisting all fact to make his own ending - where Jews in the form of 'Basterd' soldiers and the French girl take revenge on the Germans who tormented them in exactly the same fashion as they did - bombing, shooting, killing them in a locked chamber as they run defenselessly around. Hitler's end was not in a theatre nor was Goebbels so Tarantino pretty much used the film to create a fantasy and get back in some storybook way. To me the distortion of facts did not appeal so much. The violence was muted and the story moved along smoothly, almost like a cartoon book, with no adrenaline. Maybe that was the idea behind the chapter wise showing of the movie. Interesting effort, though not the greatest for me, since it is rather a pointless fantasy with grossly distorted facts of a not too long ago story. Tarantino squeezes the tense moments dry of tension - and builds that well in almost every situation and one can see why he is a master. But if there is one single reason for watching this movie it must be to watch the mercurial and unpredictable Hans Landa and the wonderful way Christoph Waltz played that character.
P.S. About why the film is called 'Inglourious Basterds' Mr. Tarantino apparently said that basterds is spelt that way because we say it that way. About the rest he revealed nothing!

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