So, last night I was fortunate enough to attend the Red Carpet screening of Quentin Tarantino's latest film Inglorious Basterds. In attendance were Al Gore (host of the event), producer Lawrence Bender, Eli Roth (actor in this case, director usually), and French actress Melanie Laurent (more on her later). The red carpet also included some local luminaries - Sheryl Crow, Kathy Mattea, Mindy Smith, Rep. Jim Cooper - but the star of the evening was clearly Quentin Tarantino (even though he was in Los Angeles).
Inglorious Basterds is an audacious, outrageous jaw-dropper of a movie. Will it piss some people off? Most definitely. It will likely leave some scratching their heads. What makes the movie so fascinating in the end is that it is ultimately a movie about World War 2 movies. There are so many movies about the war that many people alive today only know it as an experience viewed on the screen. Hell, one of my classes was solely devoted to the films of WWII. Obviously, Tarantino is one of those people who really only knew the war as a big-screen fantasia. In that light, is his revenge fantasy really any different than say, Saving Private Ryan? The answer is a definite yes. But is it worth of some of the claims of insensitivity that have been levied against the film? No. Not really. Tarantino's band of angry American Jews (the Basterds of the title) are really nothing more than a variation on the Dirty Dozen (and are really only a small part of the film). And if that's not reference enough, there are at least a couple hundred more references to previous films and directors.
If there is a criticism to be levied against the film it's that it really isn't terribly emotionally involving. The whole thing is such an intellectual exercise that it comes off a bit cold. Where it does get truly engaging is when the true stars of the film get to play off one another. Austrian actor Christoph Walz bounds from obscurity to international superstar with his turn as the charming and vicious Hans Landa (nicknamed the Jew Hunter). Even when given pieces of dialogue that border on stereotype, he dances through the lines with such effortlessness that he creates a character that one might believe based on reality (as Ralph Fiennes' Amon Goethe was).
Also bursting through to stardom is French actress Melanie Laurent. As Shosanna Dreyfus, the one surviving member of a family of Jewish dairy farmers massacred by Walz's soldiers in the opening scene, Laurent plays the revenge-minded femme fatale. The varying degrees of sadness, fear, and righteous anger play across her face with such grace. It's actually somewhat amazing that this performance hasn't gained more award traction.
Walz, Laurent, Michael Fassbender, and Diane Kruger are proof of Tarantino's best instincts. Let's face it, Tarantino can get just about anyone he wants. Instead of casting big-time A-listers, he chose French and German actors to play French and German characters. The finest parts of the film come from that very choice.
Finally, without giving any plot away - only Tarantino would and/or could end a film with "I think this may be my masterpiece." That is probably an overstatement. But it's a ripping good time if you're prepared for it.
I had the good fortune of taking my first film class in 1989 - the same year a local theater began playing "arthouse" cinema. So, as I fell in love with film, I was able to see "sex, lies, & videotape", "Do the Right Thing", "Drugstore Cowboy", and "Roger & Me" in the local cinema. My life was changed forever.