Inglourious Basterds

I watched a ton of movies this last week as I prepared to vote in the SAG Awards. One of them that particularly surprised me is Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, a film that was very different from what the trailers had led me to believe. The previews made it look like a completely insane, manic romp of a killing spree, with plenty of melodrama thrown in for good measure. Instead there were long stretches of serious, chilling scenes that could have been made by any filmmaker. The opening focuses on an interrogation between a Nazi officer, Standartenführer Hans Landa, nicknamed the Jew Hunter, and a French dairy farmer. It's surprisingly suspenseful, considering that little is happening on the surface, just chatting and drinking milk while the officer seems to be very relaxed, but there is an underlying sense of doom; a sense the officer is the cat and the farmer is a mouse that thinks he's another cat.

The opening scene is a prologue then we jump ahead a few years to a pivotal event where many of the Nazi high command will be gathered in a public place at the same time. This is a prime opportunity for a band of kind of scary gung ho dudes called the Basterds who take delight in scalping Nazis. (Shown in graphic detail more than once – as usual for a Tarantino film, this one is not for the faint of heart or anyone with a weak stomach.) The leader of the band is Aldo Raine, nicknamed Aldo the Apache and played by Brad Pitt. He's a crazy man who has a scar from a rope around his neck and carries a Bowie knife which he uses to mark Nazis so that everyone will know what they are forever after. (Of course his preference is to kill them but sometimes he has to leave them alive for strategic reasons.) Other members of the team include Donny Donowitz, (played by Eli Roth) who is called The Bear Jew and carries a baseball bat signed by all the Jewish people in his neighborhood, which he uses to wallop the heads of his enemies. He's such a terror that there are rumors he's not a man at all, or even a bear, but rather a wrathful golem summoned by a rabbi to destroy those who commit atrocities against his people. Another face you might recognize is B. J. Novak as Smithson Utivich. B.J. plays Ryan on the Office and is kind of quiet in this film.

All of the actors in this ensemble cast do a fine job (Brad Pitt looks as though he had a lot of fun with his lout of a character) but it's Christoph Walt who steals the show as the Jew Hunter. He brings incredible tension to his scenes, which are all played subtly, with an underlying menace that made me want to run away. His character claims to have an uncanny ability to find hiding Jews and the actor has an uncanny ability to make the simplest statement sound like a terrible threat. Every conversation is essentially an interrogation. I can't imagine what his home life must be like.

While there is less action than I normally expect from a Tarantino film there is plenty to go around, with explosions, fire, gunfire and blood enough to satisfy most everyone. As usual the director lovingly films the faces of characters who are in agony, whether from having a swastika carved into their foreheads or from other forms of physical abuse. It's not as blatant as in say, Kill Bill, where the camera lingers on the Bride's poor face for what seems like an hour, but it's still there. This is the biggest problem I have with Tarantino's films. I understand that his films need violence (they would be totally different without it) but I get the creeps when the scene stops moving forward so we can watch someone endure anguish. Thank goodness we always have the option of hiding our eyes to get us through the ultraviolent bits.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Gordent Freechman who writes in to say, "For all of you who haven't tried out the Half-Life series, and like FPS's or puzzle games at all... You are missing quite the gem. Made by VALVe, this series is one of the most entertaining and innovative games out there, with excellent physics, control systems, replay value, and storyline, this game will keep you entertained for ages." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.