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Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)

Quentin Tarantino has made himself quite a career out of risky films that tend to lean towards the ultra violent side. A stylized World War II film? Well...it doesn't get much riskier than that, and that's what his latest film, Inglourious Basterds, is. At least that's what it appears to be on the surface.

I'm a Tarantino fan. Not quite as crazy about his movies as a lot of other people are, but I can't say he's ever made something I didn't like. Nothing changes with his latest effort which follows two main story-lines that eventually collide.

The first of the two stories follows The Basterds. A group of mostly Jewish-American men led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) that set out to kill every Nazi they see. No prisoners, no negotiating...if you're a Nazi, you are dying, and it's going to be a cruel and sadistic death. Through a series of events, their main focus becomes bombing the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film. A premiere that will have some of the most high profile Nazi leaders in attendance, with the theory being that The Basterds could end the war in one mass killing. In order to successfully crash the premiere, they enlist the help of German actress, and double agent, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger)

The second story is that of the woman who owns the theater that the premiere is taking place. Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) is the only one of her family members to escape when Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) comes through a small village in France looking for anyone hiding Jews. She creates a new life for herself and runs her theater in relative peace, only to have her life changed forever when German war "hero" Fredrick Zoller falls for her and insists that the film based on his "heroics" is shown in her theater. She resists the young German, but when the film is ultimately forced on her theater, she comes up with a plan to kill every Nazi in attendance.

Inglourious Basterds is not a historical film. Don't look for historical accuracy with this. It isn't even about World War II. No, instead, Inglourious is about the personalities. The emotions that drive these people and the reasons they are who they are. Nazi occupied France is a backdrop to the actions of the characters and nothing more.

It is Tarantino's most over the top and violent film to date. I feel a word like "Gruesome" is an understatement. But beneath the over the top style and borderline light-hearted tone they present, Inglourious Basterds is absolutely superb and fascinating.

Watching the movie, it felt like Tarantino approached the film with the main intent being that he wanted to explore the fascinating personalities of these characters. Who they are, and the aggression and drive that's in every single last one of them. That side of the film will appeal to the art house crowd.

But just like past Tarantino films, I think he wanted to make the surface something ridiculous and over the top for an audience that came to see action. The brutality of the surface almost engages the audience and sucks them into what is beneath...what Tarantino really wanted to focus on, and that's the exploration of what makes his characters tick. The writing of the characters combined with the actors chosen to bring them to life, provide for some great performances all around, but special mention for Christoph Waltz who is just out of this world good in his role as the ruthless Col. Landa.

It's always a real accomplishment when you can create a film that the 21 year old, UFC-watching, Red Bull-drinking, college kid can enjoy just as much as the 35 year old, Fellini-watching, Latte-drinking, painter. In other words, if you view movies as straight entertainment and don't want something that plays mind games, you'll like Inglourious Basterds. If you view movies as art that should rely on exploration of it's character, you too will like the film.

Tarantino has succeeded on both levels.

The film is Rated R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality. This is most certainly a film for adults only and one you may spend looking through the gaps between your fingers as you cover your face. It's that violent.

Overall I'd give Inglourious Basterds 5 out of 5. It's a difficult viewing, but one that's well worth it if you can stomach all of the violence.