Nazi-killin’ bidness is booming: Pitt in Inglourious
Made to Look Easy
by Quentin Tarantino
any—filmmakers do violence and banter so well as Quentin Tarantino.
So, a war picture, with the subject matter’s endless opportunities
for punishment and profanity, seems natural (almost inevitable)
But, though Tarantino’s hallmarks—the pop-culture quips and
the unflinching, even gleeful, brutality—are signature, they’re
only the outward expressions of something deeper in the writer-director.
Tarantino’s immensely fun new flick, Inglourious Basterds,
is only nominally a WWII movie; really it’s a movie about
the love of moviemaking.
despair: This is not to say that the trailer you saw is misleading.
Inglourious Basterds isn’t overtly metafictional or
ironically self-aware. There are good-guy Americans, the titular
band of Jewish-American soldiers led deep behind enemy lines
by the charismatic hayseed Lt. Aldo Raine (the charismatic
Okie, Brad Pitt); there are the bad guy Nazis, most notably
the “Jew Hunter” Col. Hans Landa (a wonderfully civilized
vision of evil acted by Christoph Waltz, who’d completely
steal the movie if matched against anyone with less wattage
than Pitt); there’s the cool and elegant Brit operative (Michael
Fassbender); and the glamourous German double agent (Diane
Kruger), etc. You’ll recognize the form.
Stock players aside, Inglourious Basterds differs from,
say, The Longest Day. The war depicted in this movie
is not the one you know from history books. No spoilers here,
but Tarantino departs from the factual in quite spectacular
fashion. Because that’s what Tarantino truly does better than
anybody else: create visceral filmic spectacle, seemingly
out of sheer whim.
He’s equal parts Ed Wood and Midas. Many of the decisions
he makes just shouldn’t work. The occasional voice
over by Samuel L. Jackson, the ’70s-style supertitle announcing
one member of Pitt’s team (just one. Why? Who knows? Quentin
just thought it was cool), the achronological progression
of scenes, the sequence set to David Bowie’s 1982 song “Cat
People” . . . every one of these decisions is bad on paper.
And, amazingly, every one of them works.
A prominent story line in Basterds involves a young
Jewish woman (Mélanie Laurent) living in occupied Paris under
an assumed identity as the owner of a movie theater. Through
a chance encounter with a young German war hero, she finds
herself host to a premiere attended by the Nazi high command,
including propogandist-filmmaker Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester
Groth). It’s a delightful, surprisingly subtle and graceful
sleight of history that Tarantino has arranged here: wresting
the power of film, by the power of film, out of the hands
of a psychopath’s PR man and containing him within—and then
having at Goebbels and his bosses with the full force of Tarantino’s
aforementioned gifts. (One wonders at how many industry in-jokes
go unnoticed by we hoi polloi in these scenes.)
Basterds, by all rights, should be a mess and it isn’t.
Because Quentin Tarantino is made of film.
’Cause It’s True
by Armando Iannucci
You wouldn’t think that starting an illegal war would prove
a source of comedy gold, but In the Loop, a British
riff on real-life political events in London and Washington
during the buildup to the start of the Iraq War, is hilarious.
It’s also vicious. And it hurts. The dialogue is sharp, mean
and witty; the characters are sharper, meaner and wittier.
A bumbling Brit government minister (Tom Hollander) misspeaks
in a BBC interview: “War is unforeseeable.” Then, trying to
backpeddle, misspeaks again: “We may have to climb the mountain
of conflict.” This brings down the wrath of the prime minister’s
political enforcer, Malcolm Tucker (rhymes with “fucker”).
Tucker seems too over-the-top to be real, but is too recognizably,
deadly serious to be dismissed as mere caricature. He’s the
PR terrorist plaguing everyone in the film, British and American.
He’s the film’s stone-cold heart, played manically, with just
a whiff of brimstone, by Peter Capaldi. His foul-mouthed tirades
are backed by a laser-like focus. His one moment of physical
comedy—frantically dashing across Washington, D.C., to make
an important meeting—is as frightening as it is funny.
James Gandolfini is the only big name in the cast; he’s an
antiwar U.S. general with a first-class bullshit detector.
Also on hand are Anna Chulmsky, who is both charming and craven
as a State Department staffer who has authored a too-realistic
assessment of war prospects; David Rasche is all smooth malevolence
as a warmongering diplomat; and Steve Coogan has a delicious
bit as the hapless, misspeaking minister’s working-class nemesis.
None of the characters are “humanized” in conventional comedy
terms. If this had been made in Hollywood, a few of them would
have been presented as “sincere” and shown to have “feelings.”
In the Loop is too realistic for that tripe.
You know how comedies are supposed to have happy endings,
even if the happy ending is transparently meant to be absurd
and unbelievable? (Think of the tournament win and post-victory
make-out session in DodgeBall, or W.C. Fields’ improbable
triumphs in The Bank Dick.) I hate to break it to you,
but In the Loop stays true to its subject—you remember
how the Iraq War began, don’t you?—and to itself. The characters
may not get what they deserve, but they damn sure get what’s
coming to them.