Monday, August 31, 2009

Spaghetti Basterds

Alfred Hitchcock’s bomb theory remains perhaps the easiest way to describe suspense.

Hitchcock’s theory dictates that by showing the audience a bomb under the table two men are sitting at, the director is generating suspense. Pedestrian conversation between the two men subsequently turns into a white-knuckle experience, as the audience waits for the bomb to go off.

Quentin Tarantino uses this technique at least twice during Inglourious Basterds, his latest directorial creation, which features an alternative take on the Nazi regime and its eventual demise circa World War II.

Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, right) questions Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet).

The first instance of this is during the opening scene, in which Colonel Hans Landa (played by the show-stealing Christoph Waltz), nicknamed “The Jew Hunter,” visits a French dairy farmer.

Through pedestrian conversation, Landa’s purpose for the visit surfaces: He is searching for an unaccounted Jewish family. Instead of a bomb under a table, Tarantino uses the family under the floorboards. This extended scene firmly establishes Inglourious as much more than a film to later get labeled as standard war or action fare.

Yes, the film involves World War II and there are bursts of action. But Tarantino’s mastery of suspense paired with his uncanny ability to develop compelling characters and plot instantly plucks Inglourious far away from some paint-by-numbers action flick.

Some may dislike Tarantino’s revisionist history. Those people fail to understand Tarantino has no intention of translating pages from a history book to the screen.

Instead, he wants to put the Tarantino stamp on an infamous section of history. Factual characters such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels share an existence with the fictional Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his band of Basterds, who share a hunger to exterminate virtually every Nazi they meet.

In several ways, Inglourious is Tarantino’s most daring film: a loaded statement when you consider his last two films were tributes to Hong Kong martial arts (Kill Bill Vol. 2) and exploitation movies (Death Proof).

He pulls himself away from his trademark retro-modern universe where characters frequent cafes and taverns and still listen to The Delfonics on vinyl. He relocates and sets up shop in a completely different time, where he strips away the pop culture references and ‘70s-fusedsoundtrack synonymous with his other directorial efforts.

And still, Inglourious unmistakably has Tarantino’s fingerprints all over it. There’s his knack for plugging famous actors into quirky roles.

Pitt as Aldo Raine is a far cry from the clean-cut, eloquent Pitt engaging in heists with George Clooney by his side in the Ocean’s trilogy. The scar- and abrasion-covered Raine is a gruff, Tennesseeborn bootlegger, who would most certainly rather kill a troop of “Natsees” than rip off a casino.

There is the fluid dialogue that always seems to knock 150 minutes off the clock quicker than films half as long. Then there is the unorthodox manner in which several characters are introduced. We might get a quick narrative introduction or a simple scribbling of the character’s name accompanied by an arrow on screen.

And of course, no Tarantino film is complete without an homage to some film niche. With Inglourious, it’s the Spaghetti Western, a genre popularized in the 1960s by then unknown Clint Eastwood. To this effect, Tarantino drops his traditionally nostalgic soundtrack in favor of compositions from Ennio Morricone, the Italian-born composer whose scores helped define these Eastwood features.

Inglourious serves as another testament not just to Tarantino’s personal love of movies, but also his ability to dabble in new areas and still create classic cinema.

**** out of ****

2 comments:

ketchums said...

Great review. I loved the movie from beginning (well, we were about 15 minutes late lol, but still) to end. Christoph Waltz did a GREAT job in the film, I'd say even better than Pitt, who also did a good job. And it definitely still had Tarantino's fingerprints all over it. My possible movie of the year.

Crucifixio Jones said...

Your review proves exactly why I can't write one. As well-written as it is (as per usual), it feels...incomplete. Tarantino paid homage to so many more films and genres and tossed nods to other directors and actors past than just the spaghetti western in this movie. To not mention them seems wrong. Same goes for the music; so much more to mention than just the Morricone stuff. But for brevity's sake, this is fine.