Revenge is a Dish Best Served Bloody: Inglourious Basterds is a Glorious Homage
There's something about a Quentin Tarantino movie that makes me want to crack open a dictionary and use every word at least once. I'm a fan, I am biased about that, and I was prepared to like "Inglourious Basterds". And I did; in fact, I loved it. But, as with most Tarantino movies, there's so much going on in it, that it's impossible to sum it up in one viewing. What follows is the best amalgamation of perceptions (thank you Merriam-Webster Online) that I can process after what will be the first of many viewings.
There's a ton of "Inglourious Basterds" that has already been discussed and hashed out and opinionated upon and so there's little left to say, except that I'm going to do my best to say everything important. I mean, let's face it, in the world of opinions there are few that matter more than mine. I only say that because I have roughly 2.5 people who read this blog. But for Tarantino, that's a true statement. In the world of opinions, when it comes to his movies, the only ones that matter are his. Not only does he say this with every film he puts out, he even gets the audience to buy into it.
Face it, when you're watching Pulp Fiction, Resevoir Dogs, Kill Bill (I count them together, and I prefer the 2nd one, so let the hounding begin), Jackie Brown, and Death Proof, you're putty in Quentin's ridiculously skillful hands. You're merely along for the ride, but Tarantino is the master carnie who can convince you that remaining atop the teetering ferris wheel isn't merely a good idea, but is actually exhilirating. In plain terms, when you're dealing with Tarantino, for some reason, the same rules that apply to others, don't apply to him. You're not only willing to forgive, you're willing to stand up and cheer, or whistle, or pump your fist, or giggle with something close to glee. Or maybe it's just me.
"Inglourious Basterds" began buzzing at about the moment of its inception, or so I presume. But then, I would also presume that just about anything in Quentin Tarantino's head is buzzing. He seems like the original case of ADD, and I mean that in the best way possible. From it's now, somewhat notorious Cannes Film Festival presentation, to a sure and steady marketing campaign, over it's first weekend it became Tarantino's biggest opener ever. You know why?! Everyone loves a good revenge story, and at it's heart, that's what "Basterds" is, a revenge story. But this is no personal story of revenge, the way Kill Bill was, this is the world's story of revenge; the story of what could have been if there had been a way.
Here's the short of it: The Basterds are comprised of a group of 8 Jewish-American soldiers, 1 German who hates the S.S., 1 Southern Good Ole Boy who has a fascination with Apache rituals (yes, that would be Brad Pitt as Aldo Raine), and a partridge in a pear tree. These guys have a "take no prisoners" attitude, to put it mildly. Not only do they take no prisoners, they usually take a prize, in the form of their would-be prisoners scalp. (And yes, there is scalping in the movie, and yes, Donny Donowitz's baseball bat should get a "guest star" credit) Add into the mix one Jewish escapee looking for her own revenge(French newcomer Melanie Laurent), and a rather charismatic S.S. official doing his best to tie up all of his loose ends (Christoph Waltz in a standout, scene chewing, spot on performance) and you've got one combustible story.
To give away more would make for a sad moviegoing experience indeed. When it comes down to it, I have only one problem with the movie: it left me wanting more. Even clocking in at what is now considered an epic 153 minutes, there are so many questions I would have liked answered that I'd be willing to sit through 4 and a half hours easy, just to get the completely worthwhile answers. Then again, that's probably just me. I can tell you one thing for sure: the only time I've loved a Boston accent is when it was coming out of Eli Roth's mouth. And that's saying a lot for a to-the-core Yankees fan.
So why do all of these ingredients work? Easy, Tarantino's writing. I know some people love to bitch and moan about how self-indulgent some of his scenes are because they're so wordy and blah blah blah. None of their opinions really matter because the fact is Tarantino is one of the most gifted writers this generation has produced, if not even going back further. His writing comes from a place of such cinematic worship and reference, combined with instincts that have yet to stray far from target, that it can't help but to combine the best of the past with something the future needs to see and what results is something that's always relevant and, forgive the word, hip, without trying too hard. With "Inglourious Basterds" he's managed to go farther in "homage" mode than ever before, reaching out to Spaghetti Westerns and playing with old-school anti-heroes more than ever. The fact is, if Tarantino were directing this in the 60s, Aldo Raine would either be John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, or Lee Marvin, and that's a great comfort for some reason.
Once it's written and he's behind the camera, he knows exactly what he wants, meaning that what the audience sees are scenes with just the right amount of buoyancy and grounding, taut suspense with a dash of humor. Even Julia Child would be jealous, just ask Meryl.
If you really want to understand why this works, just look at the title. It seems ridiculous and over the top, and in a way it is. First, there's the dual misspellings "Inglourious" "Basterds", but I'm convinced that's just to throw people off a bit. Here's the thing, it's really just 2 ways of saying the same thing. "Inglorious"= lacking fame or honor; "bastard"=illegitimate, inferior" hence inglorious anyway. It's like saying something was luminiously beautiful. It's unnecessarily excessive, but that's what Tarantino kind of is, right? Then, of course, there's the literal bastardization, that would be what Tarantino does to history. Maybe in some way, Mr. Tarantino considers himself to be the phantom member of the "basterd" crew; rewriting history and changing cinema his way, and maybe taking a few Hollywood scalps, for good measure. In the end, this may all be superfluous examination, but what matters is that Quentin Tarantino never manages to disappoint, well at least not me.
Do I even need to give a grade? Fine, just so it's there in print: 5 baseball bats aka A+