Many terms spring to mind while describing a particularly potent force of cinematic nature called Quentin Tarantino – subtle isn’t one of them. So when I was subject to a 20 min conversation between a french farmer and a SS jew hunter at the start of Inglourious Basterds, I was keenly surprised. It was just a conversation between two pipe smoking men… yet not a whisper was uttered in the packed hall, not one bum shifted to a more comfortable position. I am guessing, like me, everyone else knew that something was looming. Something violent and Tarantino-like. And when it finally came, it was accompanied with a kind of flinching relief – like when a 20 minute stint in the waiting room ends with a root canal.
Quentin Tarantino is a rare phenomenon. He chooses the mundane, and elevates it to greatness through sheer visceral brilliance. His non-linear story-telling technique is an acquired taste. His movies are misunderstood as being violent – but really, they are more about the lead up to the acts of violence. (Remember how Travolta’s character dies in Pulp Fiction?) Even Kill Bill, was more choreography than violence, where the copious amounts of blood and multitude of severed limbs just made the violence comical, art-like. And even though Tarantino defies categorization and each piece is a carefully fashioned sculpture which stands alone as a unique experience; one can detect elements which are unmistakably the work of the genius. This evidence is scattered around Inglourious like carved-out scalps in a hair-cemetery. For example the juxtaposition of a western-score with the hills of the Alsace – like Mozart meeting Ennio Morricone. (In fact, most of Inglourious’ soundtrack has been referenced from what appears to be Tarantino’s video store collection.) Another example of Tarantino’s handywork is up close and intimate camerawork, keeping a reverential distance from the actors, but still capturing the electricity of each conversation – long single shots, moving gently from speaker to listener – just in time to catch the reaction and the response. Previously – especially in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction – Tarantino’s characters have been loud and brash and extremely talkative, resulting in seemingly meaningless conversation. But in Inglourious, throughout the 120 minutes of talk (the movie is 150 min long – 30 min is the non-talk stuff…you know what I mean…), there is not one word that is uttered without meaning. Even the most harmless dialogue carries the weight the speaker’s intentions, good or bad (mostly bad). Every conversation in Inglourious is a duel – a little battle in the mother of all wars – WWII. Because that is what the movie is all about. People on different sides of the fence, carrying their own agenda, and adding their own spark to the fire that rearranged the world.
To many this will be Tarantino’s return to glourious form. The master of violence and the absurd has deftly created a homage to the real battles in most wars. The battles of polarised minds and egos, emotional politics if you will. This is Tarantino recasting a transformational time in our history from a battle of machines to a battle of intellect. And all this with prodiguous filmmaking talent and technique, which should serve as a reference to generations of aspiring filmmakers.
But no review of Inglourious Basterds would be complete without a glowing tribute to Christoph Waltz, who plays Col. Landa, the incredibly suave and spine-chillingly menacing German SS officer nicknamed “The Jew Hunter”. Tarantino himself has admitted on numerous occassions that Col. Landa is one of the best characters he has ever written – a man with superior intellect, a bigger ego than Hitler himself and a completely unpredictable demeanour. Switching effortlessly between German, French, English and even Italian (a language he doesn’t actually speak) – he owns every scene he is in, getting the better of every opponent in every conversation. He is the Heath Ledger of this movie. (Villianous characters are so much more interesting that good ones!) Sure enough, he already won the Best Actor Award at this year’s Cannes festival… the Oscars should be rolling out too. Even if you are not a Tarantino fan, watch the movie for Landa’s character.
Inglourious Basterds is a cinematic tour-de-force which will certainly place Quentin Tarantino in the pantheon of visionary auteurs. If he is already not there. 4 Stars. Watch it.