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Sunday, 6 September 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Many who have followed the career of Quentin Tarantino would attest that his last great film dates back over a decade ago to 1997’s slick crime drama Jackie Brown. His output in the subsequent decade has been critically maligned by some as almost typically self-indulgent, personal meanders indicative of misdirected potential. Such a charge however cannot be levelled at his latest and bravest effort. Inglourious Basterds spent over a decade rolling around in his head until he decided to visualise it, and it feels very much different from any of the works he produced during that period. Gone are the usual Tarantino suspects in favour of relative unknowns, Mélanie Laurent and Christophe Waltz, and bar its signature feature of a dialogue chewing Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, the film is less balanced towards the exploits of the Basterds than its title suggests. Besides, aside from the entertaining Pitt, the less screen time given to Tarantino’s odd choice protégé Eli Roth, the better, considering his acting is as woeful as his directing. Christophe Lanz on the other hand, is a name to remember. Right from his engaging opening entrance questioning a French farmer, Waltz as the calculating Hans Landa commandeers every scene he is in, underplaying and overplaying, interrogating his victims as delicate as an incisive pathologist. The film is built upon these increasingly tense encounters: at the French farmhouse; Landa’s subtle test of Laurent’s Jewish survivor turned avenging angel, Shoshanna Dreyfus, culminating in the rendezvous behind enemy lines with Diane Kruger’s Bridget von Hammersman, an unbearably taut scene that is simply marvellous in execution. This cast in fact, is possibly his finest since yes, Jackie Brown, and the finest ensemble of any film this year. After all however, Inglourious Basterds was only ever going to polarise opinion as it did at its Cannes release, on account of his fascination with and representation of violence, but whatever your angle on QT, his latest should be considered his best this decade, and one of the best films this year. Featuring a multitude of impressive performances and tense dramatic incidences, Basterds will be marked as arguably his most audacious project since Pulp Fiction, and in Hans Landa one of his most compelling characters, driven by a terrific performance by Christophe Waltz.