On the way back from watching Inglourious Basterds yesterday, I had a conversation with my wife that made me realize something. There’s no way you can actually convert someone to the Church of Tarantino. His style of filmmaking doesn’t lend itself to persuasive argument.
Consider the opening scene of Basterds, for instance. Set somewhere in Nazi-occupied France, it involves a protracted conversation between an SS officer named Hans Landa who is tasked with the job of rounding up all the Jews in France, and a French farmer who happens to be harbouring some Jews. You know, even if you haven’t read a word about the movie, that this scene will end in violence. Tarantino knows that you know. So he stretches out the dialogue — Landa takes his time to make his point. By the time the action eventually comes, like an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, you are primed for it.
This, the best written scene in the movie, is as good an illustration of Tarantino’s method as any other. His killers enjoy talking while they hold a loaded gun; they enjoy it so much and are so good at it that you don’t really want them to pull the trigger until they’re done.
I wrote the two paragraphs above in second person. Now, if it has occurred to you while reading these paragraphs that you aren’t really the “you” that they refer to, then go no further. If, on the other hand, the opposite has occurred to you, then again, go no further and watch the movie instead of reading an unabashed Tarantino fan ramble on about the joys of watching yet another of his movies.
You still here? Okay. Instead of speaking of the movie itself, which I will leave for you to discover, let me talk about Christoph Waltz, who plays Landa. Prior to this movie, I hadn’t even heard of the man. A Jewish actor (oh, the irony!) of Austrian origin, he hasn’t appeared in too many movies — the only one I’ve seen is Ordinary Decent Criminal, but I don’t remember it or him too well. This is not surprising — I hadn’t heard of Pam Grier before Jackie Brown, nor of David Carradine before Kill Bill. What will also not be surprising is that, every time I come across the man in the future, my first and fondest recollection will be of him playing Hans Landa. Tarantino is reported to have said that, had he not gotten anyone like Waltz to play Landa, he might not have made the movie at all. This may be an exaggeration, but this much is true: had he not gotten anyone like Waltz to play Landa, he ought not to have made the movie at all.
Watch how he chews his food before speaking, as if to indicate that he has all the time in the world before getting his job done. How he slips from cheerful bonhomie to cold steel almost in the middle of a sentence. His interaction with Shoshanna, the heroine of this tale. She survives the massacre at the farmer’s house and grows to become the proprietor of a cinema in Paris. There is a moment where she encounters Landa again — watch how Landa plays that scene. You always get the feeling, when he is dealing with an adversary, that he knows exactly what cards his opponent is holding. He doesn’t play with them, he toys with them. Now think about what a suitable comeuppance for a man like this would be and watch how the movie ends with him getting exactly what he deserves.
Pitted against him is an array of actors — Melanie Laurent is perfect as Shoshanna, and Diane Kruger does pretty much her best work in this movie as Bridget von Hammersmark. But by far the most delicious supporting performance comes from Brad Pitt, who plays Lt. Aldo Raine, chief of the Basterds. Pitt has done a variety of roles in his career, but his chief talent seems to be a flair for comedy. Eli Roth takes all the dementia he puts into his slasher movies and brings it to his character of the Bear Jew. Mike Myers pops in for a little cameo but doesn’t seem to accomplish much other than make us exclaim, “Wait a minute, Austin Powers is the British general?”
My wife commented, after the movie was over, that Tarantino’s style was way too look-at-me-I’m-making-a-big-movie for her taste. She is absolutely right. Tarantino’s movies are seldom about their subject — they are primarily about themselves, and about his love for the movies. However, to quote Hans Landa:
Where our conclusions differ, is I don’t consider the comparison an insult.