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Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Tarantino is back!
Tarantino's new film Inglorious Basterds is to me a return to form for the man who gave us the instant classic Pulp Fiction. QT is at his best when he creates situations that build the tension between his characters. He is unfortunately at his worst when he chooses style over substance. A classic example of the Tarantino style over substance is in Kill Bill Volume 1 where there are so many "references" to other earlier Japanese films. Tarantino is also at his best in the writing of his dialogue, which, quite frankly, is in most cases, second to none.
Luckily for casual and rabid fans alike, Basterds showcases QT's strengths more often than his weaknesses. Two scenes are particularly strong, even to the point of being flawless: the opening scene involving Mr. LaPadite and Hans Landa aka "The Jew Hunter," and the "Mexican Standoff" scene involving Michael Fassbender, Bridget von Hammersmark, Hugo Stiglitz, and the uniformed Gestapo officer Dieter Hellstrom. The first scene serves as an introduction to the main antagonist of the film, Hans Landa, as well as a flashback to introduce Shosannah Dreyfus, a French Jew hiding in her neighbors basement in the French countryside, and one of our main protagonists. The tension that Tarantino builds in the scene is exquisite and truly hearkens back to the best work he's ever done in Pulp Fiction. The second scene is perhaps even better regarding the buildup of tension. The dialogue is so realistic that you feel you are not in a theatre watching a Tarantino film, rather you are in that room witnessing a bloody battle about to unfold. These two scenes are absolutely masterful and proves that there is no one better in the business when it comes to writing an engrossing scene.
The rest of the movie is standard Tarantino fare: very stylistic, graphic violence, snappy dialogue, and lots of references to other films. Tarantino certainly doesn't mind wearing his influences on his sleeve and this is one of the films weaknesses. At some points it feels over-indulgent with all the stylization and referencing of other films. It gets to the point where you feel that Tarantino is perfectly content to never come up with his own style reasoning that using other films styles IS actually HIS style. That worked well in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but by now the novelty and freshness has worn off. It is a pity QT can't be as inventive with his mis-en-scene as he can be with his dialogue. The other so- called "weakness" isn't really a weakness. Most of the scenes seem to go on longer than expected. But, I don't see this so much as weakness as much as a throwback to the slower pace of 70's and earlier films. This film reminds us how much the pacing of films has changed ever since MTV style editing has come about.
Overall, Basterds is Tarantino's best work since Jackie Brown. It is not however a "brilliant, or ground-breaking" film like many on this website may claim. It is simply a very solid and in some scenes flawless movie. Fans will not see anything here that they haven't seen before either in other QT films or in other films in various genres (Spaghetti Westers being the most obvious influence here). However, what audiences will see is a smartly written, engrossing and intense, black comedy about Nazi-occupied France. This film redeems QT in my eyes from the derivative and formulaic Kill Bill and grindhouse films. And, the acting is consistently superb from the entire cast in this film, especially from Christoph Walz and Melanie Laurent. Go see this film if you want Tarantino at his vintage best!