Pros: Well directed, photographed, acted
Cons: subject matter certainly in bad taste
Tarantino seems intent on creating art out of exploitive, gratuitous material by emulating (quite effectively) Hitchcock, Renoir and Fulci. Exquisitely photographed, edited and acted Basterds remains an exploitation move. It’s unnecessary and to some is deeply offensive.
Imagine a what if action fantasy film with men on a mission in World War 2 to get Hitler and his top cronies (this was loosely based on a cheap Italian knock-off of Dirty Dozen).
No spoilers here. Read on.
Although 2 and a half hours long with some intentionally very slow-pace scenes I was engrossed in character interactions, witty dialogue, film-making bravura and wasn’t bored at all.
Beginning with the title “Once upon a Time” Basterds is split into several Chapters. It takes its time getting started opening in the French country side with a dairy-farmer chopping wood who sees three vehicles approaching and tells his daughter to get into the house. We meet the very cordial, well-mannered Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). The suspense and tension rises with each passing minute. We pretty much know what’s going to happen but things develop a bit differently than expected as time passé--the suspense building to an excruciating level akin the best moments in a Hitchcock film.
Then, we meet Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) a part Apache Southern boy, Jew, with an iron jaw who’s assembled an 8 soldier crew to strike terror into the hearts of the Nazi's that includes: Donnnie Donowitz, aka "The Bear Jew' who bashes captured Nazi's with a baseball bat (played by director Eli (Hostel) Roth). They are known as the Basterds and are used as comic counterpoints to other storylines that develop.
Hitler over-played Mel Brooksian-style by Martin Wuttke, interviews a young soldier who’s survived the Basterd’s with a swastika scar on his head. Shosanna Dreyful (Melanie Laurent) is young woman who owns/operates a movie theatre in Paris. She might be having a forbidden love affair with her Black projectionist. A Nazi war-hero played by Daniel Bruhl, is smitten with her and appreciates her willingness to program German movie nights at her cinema and wants Jospeh Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) movie of his exploit’s 'Pride of the Nation' to play the theater. Eventually Shosanna and Hans Landa will meet and the Basterds will engage in their mission. It all seems fairly plausible but despite historical figures accuracy is not important—this is a fantasy movie.
Discover the rest for yourself including Robert Richardson’s superb cinematography Original music by Ennio Morricone and interesting uses of catalog music including David Bowie’s Putting Out The Fire. The 'Chapters' device means Tarantino plays with styles and tones from Aldrich to Fritz Lang, Hitchcock to Renoir.
Next up he takes on Spaghetti Westerns!
Tarantino may not have anything particularly important to say (did Hitchcock?) but he brings a meticulous sense of control, creates beautifully balanced frames, and gets wonderful performances in this retro-World War 2 fantasy exploitation film.
©2012, Christopher J. Jarmick