Category Archives: Rewatch Reviews

Rewatch Review – No Country for Old Men (2007)

WARNING: This review contains plenty of spoilers. Proceed at own risk.

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Posted by on 27 April, 2012 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews


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Rewatch Review – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

This was a film that I absolutely owed a rewatch. The first time I saw Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead was a few years ago, and the circumstances were less than ideal. I was with two friends who didn’t like it at all and found it boring, and they wouldn’t shut up about it. Eventually, I just gave up on trying to focus on the film and we just started babbling about other things. I gave the film a low mark as a result, justifying it with “it failed to hold my attention”. While this is true, this is obviously not something that should be placed on the movie’s shoulders. When I thought about it a while ago, I realized I didn’t remember anything about the film itself other than the circumstances around seeing it. People seem to have a lot of love for it though, so it went onto my rental list. I’m glad I gave it another shot.

Told in a non-chronological order, the film uses a botched robbery as its real kick-off point. A masked guy threatens the elderly shopkeeper (Rosemary Harris) with a gun, but the end result is both of them shooting each other. At this point in the film, we are not aware of who these people are. It’s soon revealed that the robbery was the brainchild of a corporate accountant named Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who soon enlisted his weak-willed brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) to help him do the deed. Both are in urgent need of money: Andy to cover up his embezzling at work, Hank just to pay the rent and provide good living for his daughter. It was meant to be nice and simple: no guns, no bloodshed, no victims (the diamonds were all insured). As we now know, this is not how things turned out.

This is a wise crime film in that it deals with ordinary people who are forced to deal with the fallout of a heist gone awry. They’re plagued by guilt over the people who died, they have to look after their distressed father (Albert Finney) who had ties to the store, and all the problems the robbery was supposed to take care of still remain. Andy was planning a vacation to Rio de Janeiro to liven up his strained marriage to Gina (Marisa Tomei), but now that’s out the window and the auditors at work are fast closing in on him. He also has a heroin addiction that needs feeding. Meanwhile, Hank is struggling to just get through the day financially, something not alleviated by him now being blackmailed by a man (Michael Shannon) who seems to know about his involvement in the robbery.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is made by Sidney Lumet, highly acclaimed director of films such as 12 Angry Men, Network and Dog Day Afternoon. It was to be the last film he directed before he died in April this year. It’s a strong note to end a career on, even if not everything in the movie fully works. Perhaps my chief complaint is how little is done with the non-chronological structure. The opening robbery where we’re not sure what’s going on is effective, but apart from that, the constant back-and-forth jumping in time adds little to the film. This is a story that could have been told more straight-forwardly and still accomplish everything it needs to. The shifts in time and perspective are accompanied by flashing cuts and noise that distracts from the characters’ lives. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is many things, but seamless is not one of them. But it’s a fun story to behold no matter how it’s presented. It’s clear to see how one event leads to another and how the situation slowly but surely spirals out of control. This is a character-driven film free from contrived plot developments, and debuting screenwriter Kelly Masterson deserves a lot of praise for his work here.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors working today, and he doesn’t disappoint here. His character Andy feels the most fleshed out of the main players, swaying from jovial smooth-talker to stressed-out volcano with ease. As he inches closer to the deep end, we’re with him every step of the way. Ethan Hawke also does a fine job as the easily manipulated Hank, more overtly nervous than his brother. It’s a role that doesn’t necessarily play to his strengths (to me Hawke shines in roles that put him in more ordinary situations like Before Sunset/Sunrise, Reality Bites and Fast Food Nation), but he pulls off a solid performance here. Albert Finney brings a weighty presence to the role as the father, really bursting with energy in a couple of choice scenes. And then there’s Marisa Tomei, constantly getting better with each passing year, here doing the most of what limited screentime she has and nailing every second of it.

So yeah, I liked this movie. More than on my first watch, understandably, almost to the point where I wonder how any of us could have been bored with it. While there’s little extraordinary about the film, it’s a tight story where we’re clearly aware of the characters’ motives and reasonings throughout even when they’re not spelled out explicitly. I do wish the film could have provided a stronger sense of urgency at times. It feels a bit too methodical and distant at times, and some more tension would have been welcome. Regardless, it’s a well-acted film with a compelling story. Others have liked it more than me, so if it sounds appealing to you, don’t hesitate to check it out.

Score: 3/5


Posted by on 6 October, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews


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Rewatch Review – Bitch Slap

The first time I watched Bitch Slap was with a couple of friends. The general concensus we formed at the time was that it wasn’t a very good film. This isn’t a hard conclusion to come to if one were to just hear about it as there’s precious little about it that indicates quality. Yet something kept bothering me about the movie. It’s not like it has any aspirations of greatness. It’s meant to be mindless fun, and that’s not something I have any problems with in general. So why didn’t I like it? Was it in fact intentionally “bad”? What is “bad” anyway? I made an offhand comment on Twitter the other day about how it’s the worst movie I’ve ever wanted to rewatch, and along came Travis McClain to argue that it actually was pretty good and I was just being a snob. A snob! Me! Crank is one of my favorite films, for God’s sake! Surely this couldn’t be the reason for me not liking Bitch Slap. So what was it then? One rewatch later, and I think I might be a step closer to the truth.

But one thing at a time. Let me first describe the premise. Three attractive women arrive by car to a remote trailer in the desert. There’s calm and intelligent Hel (Erin Cummings) who appears to be the leader of the trio. There’s tough ex-con Camero (America Olivo), the unhinged one who’s always a hair away from a violent outburst. And last but not least is ditzy stripper Trixie (Julia Voth), who’s strangely enough presented as being nigh-supernaturally beautiful, presumably because she has more make-up on than the other two equally pretty girls. Also: In the trunk of the car is a badly beat-up and tied-up gangster called Gage (Michael Hurst). Why these people have arrived at this location is gradually unravelled as the movie progresses, but it’s established early on that the women are looking for a treasure of some kind and that Gage might know where it is. The brunt of the movie takes place at this hideaway, with backstory being filled in through flashbacks.

Bitch Slap is essentially an homage to the exploitation flicks of the 60s and 70s, with hot chicks and violence on the menu at Casa del Gratuitousness. It’s the kind of film that makes Wild Things seem dignified. When the women exit the car at the start of the film, the camera immediately zooms in on their generous bosoms. When they get tired from digging around in the sand, they cool off by dumping buckets of water on each other in slow-motion. And the violence is certainly there too, including but not limited to a razor-yoyo-wielding Asian (played by Minae Noji), a ludicrously big gun and a couple of pretty spiffy cat-fights. It’s all very over-the-top of course, but never quite crossing over into full-on parody territory. The dialogue is a different matter though, and it’s my favorite aspect of the film by far. No movie can be all bad when it features gems of lines such as “Lube my boob, skank twat” and “Ram this in your clam bake, bitch cake”. The pièce de résistance is this gem, however: “I’m gonna booty-bang bitch slap your fucking ass until you’re just this side of salvage. Then I’m gonna ram-ride girly’s show tits asunder before I plow both of you bitches under!”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So there is stuff to enjoy about this film, and I did like it a bit better on this solitary second watch. I still hesitate to say that it accomplishes its goals fully, though. The chief problem is that despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us in terms of blood and titilation, it’s not consistently funny. The schtick grows old too fast, and the film has little to back it up with. At 106 minutes long, it drags. 20-30 minutes earlier would have been a better time to roll the credits. Another issue I have is that the film comes off as too polished. For a movie inspired by old exploitation films, Bitch Slap actually looks fairly good visually. Too glossy, if you will. Death Proof, while very far from perfect, did a better job in recreating the genre’s look in modern times. Bitch Slap has too many cool explosions and fancy effects going on. The blatant green-screen work in the flashback sequences, on the other hand, is just the kind of thing that feels right for the material even if the technology wasn’t quite there yet when the originals were being made.

The film isn’t actually bad. It’s lurid trash, of course, but it’s not bad. Bitch Slap is an almost decent action flick masquerading as a crappy b-movie in a tailor-made costume. The story itself isn’t anything special or captivating, but the almost Memento-ish structure of the flashbacks, where we step by step move back in time to find out how things got started, is solid. Not that I care about what’s going on (because the film lets us know early on that we’re not meant to), but I can appreciate the way it’s presented to me. It’s competently put together in terms of shot composition and editing and the like. Compare this to the mess that is Zombie Nation and you’ll see what I mean. Director/write/producer Rick Jacobson and his colleague Eric Gruendemann know what they’re doing. They’ve previously worked on TV series such as Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and as a bonus the main players from those shows all pop up for cameos here: Lucy “Xena” Lawless, Renée “Gabrielle” O’Connor and Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo.

So, bottom-line: is the film worth watching or not? I’ve been hee-hawing back and forth on this all day. I will concede that I took the film a little too seriously on my first viewing, not fully embracing the silliness going on. I mean, everyone involved is in on the fun and nobody has any delusions about what they’re doing; the actors ham it up completely (Olivo and Hurst in particular both chew the scenery like there’s no tomorrow) and we jump from one ludicrous situation to another. There is not an iota of pretentiousness to be found anywhere. And while it’s true that the movie drags a bit here and there and runs too long, there is enough fun to be had up until that point that you’re not likely to be too bored. I’m feeling generous here and will give it a score of 3/5. It’s not “good”, but I can’t say I regret seeing it twice. That should count for something.

Score: 3/5


Posted by on 24 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews


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Rewatch Review – Taxi Driver

Watching Martin Scorsese‘s Taxi Driver, I force myself to remember another film: Mark Romanek‘s feature debut One Hour Photo. It doesn’t take a lot of prodding as there is a fair amount of similarities. Both deal with loners, characters who struggle to connect with the people around them. Both movies’ protagonists see injustices being committed and decide to do something about them. One crucial difference is how towards the end of One Hour Photo, we’re given a possible explanation for the Robin Williams lead character’s actions and behavior. It doesn’t work. It feels tacked on and unnecessary, and leaves a bit of a sour taste as it closes off an otherwise skillfully made psychological thriller.

I force myself to remember this because Taxi Driver’s protagonist Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is so fascinating and enigmatic, and we’re never told what has made him the way he is. Curiosity gnaws on me, yet I realize that I’m probably better off not knowing. The guessing is part of the fun.

Who is Travis Bickle? He’s lonely, but he doesn’t like it that way. He’s socially awkward. He’s an insomniac. He takes a night time job as a taxi driver in New York City. He seems uncomfortable and distracted when talking to his colleagues. He knows squat about politics, pop culture or anything at all. He’s a former Marine, or so he claims. He keeps a journal, providing us with clues to his psyche in voice-over narration.

The first thing we see in Taxi Driver is smoke billowing up from a manhole cover, intercut with close-ups of Travis’ eyes. Is Scorsese saying that Travis’ vision is obscured, or that he see clearly through the fog enveloping him and the city? We can be certain that he sees something, at least. Or we might call it something, but to him it’s everything.

“All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

One temporary shining light in his life is Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a woman whom he sees as angelic and beautiful. She works with the presidential campaign of Senator Palantine (Leonard Harris), whose platform Travis knows nothing about but is willing to put up with just to spend time with Betsy. But they’re incompatible, despite what he says about there being a connection between them. Travis isn’t compatible with anybody. On their first night out, he takes her to a porn theater. It’s the kind of movies he likes seeing, so why wouldn’t she? The result is predictable.

When he’s rejected by her, Travis becomes more destructive. He’s sick of the scum of the city that comes out at night and wishes something to be done about it. But what can he do? He’s just “God’s lonely man”. His mounting feelings of impotence are only heightened when he can’t even save child prostitute Iris (a 13 year-old Jodie Foster) from her rough life under a small-time pimp (Harvey Keitel). He buys a small arsenal of guns (leading to the iconic “You talkin’ to me” scene), but odds are even he doesn’t know what he’s planning to use them for at the time. He desperately seeks a purpose, some way to do good, but he’s unable to find the right outlet. Even when he performs a random act of kindness by preventing a robbery, it doesn’t even seem to register on him.

This much we do know or can reasonably deduct about Travis Bickle, but so many questions remain. Was he really a marine? Did something happen to him during his service? What are the pills he takes, only to then stop? Why does he lie in letters to his parents about having a secret government job? And just what is going through his mind as he sits in his apartment, watching people dance and have fun on TV, his head leaning against the barrel of his .44 Magnum?

Oh, right, this is supposed to be a review. Well, Taxi Driver is a great movie, of course. It’s not for everyone, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you probably should. It’s beautifully shot, Bernard Herrman‘s score is tremendous and the atmosphere is rich at all times. And yeah, Robert De Niro hits all the right notes and then some in his performance. If you wonder why I’m “only” giving it a 4/5, it’s because I don’t like it enough to give it the full monty. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that the film isn’t superb, because it is.

“All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that one should become a person like other people.”

Now, excuse me as I go ponder Travis some more. Not having all the answers can indeed be a good thing.

Score: 5/5

And with that, my rewatching project comes to an end. Thanks go out to everyone who voted on what movies I should see (I’ll rewatch them all eventually, even if I don’t write reviews of them).


Posted by on 12 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews


Rewatch Review – The Wrestler (2008)

As I mentioned yesterday in my review of Up in the Air, awards season is weird in the ways it can influence how you view movies. I went back and glanced through a bunch of reviews for Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler just now, and all anyone could talk about at the time was leading actor Mickey Rourke. Rourke is brilliant, Rourke’s career mirrors that of his character, Rourke makes a triumphant comeback, Rourke will win the Oscar, Rourke this, Rourke that. When it was time for me to sit down and watch the film, it became impossible to separate Rourke’s performance from the movie. And Rourke was brilliant, so the movie was brilliant too. I called it my favorite film of 2008 at the time.

While my adoration for the film is dampened a little bit as I watch it for a second time, my appreciation for Rourke’s performance is anything but. He plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a professional wrestler who was a big star in the 80s, selling out Madison Square Garden. That was a long time ago, though. Now he’s old and washed up, his body’s broken down and he’s wrestling in small gyms in front of crowds barely scratching triple digits. The money from his heydays is long gone. He lives alone in a trailer, takes odd jobs where he can find them and spends his free time at the local strip club. He seems to enjoy doing what he does and takes things in stride, but when a health issue suddenly pops up and doctors tell him it’s time to retire lest he risks permanent injury or death, he’s forced to reevaluate his life. If he can’t fill his life with wrestling, he doesn’t want to be alone anymore. One particular stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) seems a possibility for a romantic relationship, and there’s also his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) who he tries to get back in touch with after having neglected her during most of her life.

There are certainly similarities between the careers of Mickey Rourke and Randy The Ram, but focusing on that too much is to do a disservice to what a transformative performance this is. This is one of those turns where the actor fully becomes the character. We’re not seeing Mickey Rourke in this film. We’re seeing The Ram from the word go, as he sits quietly in a dressing room preparing for a match, as he marches to the ring basking in the crowd’s approval, as he puts his body through immense physical punishment because it’s all he knows and all he wants to do. The only time when Rourke shines through and I become aware that he’s acting is during an emotional talk with his daughter, but that is one brief scene and the illusion is soon restored. This is the actor’s finest performance to date that I’ve seen.

When you look past said performance, you find a fairly straight-forward and familiar story. The estranged daughter is a character and subplot we’ve seen many times before, and stripper Cassidy isn’t far removed from your standard hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold (Tomei still puts in a great performance, I should point out). Their presence here makes sense, as many old pro wrestling stars can attest too (for more on the subject, check out Barry W. Blaustein‘s fascinating documentary Beyond the Mat), but we still know who these characters are and what role they’ll play in Randy’s story from when we first see them. While The Wrestler is more of a character study than a plot-driven drama, I would still have liked something a bit more fresh underneath the no doubt unique facade of a serious wrestling film.

This was Aronofsky’s fourth feature film. His first three (Pi, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) were heavily stylized and harrowing mindscrews. The Wrestler is thus a radical departure from his signature style, as he instead wisely opts for a realistic tone more suited for the material. There’s more of a hands-off approach at work here, just shooting to see how a scene goes with no storyboarding to map things out. The result is a markedly different film from Aronofsky’s usual fare. His next film Black Swan would see a return to his normal style, but The Wrestler stands as testament to his versatility as a director. He can make great movies in different ways. If you didn’t know it was him, you’d have a hard time guessing that this film is the work of the man who made the vibrant thread-twisting The Fountain.

But just because the film is somewhat austere in its tone and visuals doesn’t mean the emotions are. As familiar as the plot may be, it’s still a very gripping tale being told. Mickey Rourke is indeed the film. His haggard face tells the whole story, both when he struggles to form bonds with the people around him and when he’s going through physical anguish in the ring. Had he not done such a teriffic job, the whole movie could have ended up a slight footnote in Aronofsky’s filmography. But Rourke is game here, and it’s only a shame that he hasn’t shown the same fire since.

Score: 4/5

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Posted by on 10 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews


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Rewatch Review – Up in the Air

Sometimes, awards season can be overwhelming. All of a sudden, there’s tons of movies you need to check out. A vast majority of them will be really good, too. It can be very intense, and it’s easy to get too caught up in it and only view films in comparison to their competitiors rather than for what they actually are themselves. The 2009 season was very much such a case for me, especially since I got too hyped up about everything that it was inevitable for me not to be let down. In a slew of greatly anticipated films, Up in the Air was the one I had particularly high hopes for. A critically loved dramedy, made by Jason Reitman, the same guy responsible for Thank You For Smokng (which I really dig) and Juno (which I love), and starring Mr. Hollywood George Clooney. This would be my favorite for the season, surely. Well, it wasn’t. I very much liked the film, but I didn’t feel it really brought anything fresh to the table. What was so great about it? Why was this at one point considered a Best Picture frontrunner? And, perhaps the most unfair question of all: Why wasn’t it Juno?

It wasn’t Juno because it didn’t need to be. It was considered a Best Picture frontrunner because people thought the Academy would love it (it ended up not winning any Oscars at all). And what’s great about it is everything, as I have now discovered on a rewatch.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who fires people for a living. When a company boss doesn’t want to tell his employees himself that they’re being let go, he hires a guy like Ryan to handle the unpleasant task. The firm he works for has clients all over the US, so he spends a lot of time flying from one city to another. He barely has a home and maintains little contact with his relatives. And he likes it that way. As he says himself during one of his side gigs as a public speaker: “The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake: moving is living”. He feels no need to settle down. He’ll take pleasures where he can find them.

But then two women enter his life and upset it, one on a professional level and another on a personal one. The former is young hotshot Natalie (Anna Kendrick, here sporting a speech pattern that oddly reminds me of Jesse Eisenberg) who’s come up with the idea for Ryan’s company to start firing people over video phone calls, thus threatening to cause a permanent halt to his days of constant travelling. The other is Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman who much like Ryan himself spends a lot of time travelling for work. They meet each other at an airport, find mutual attraction and end up having sex that same night (they’re both gorgeous and charming, so who can blame them?). But what starts as a casual friends-with-benefits scenario soon grows for Ryan, who realizes that he might be falling in love with her.

One problem I recall having with the film after my first time seeing it was the feeling that the two sides of Ryan’s life don’t intersect in any significant way. They play as two separate stories, ocassionaly encountering but rarely affecting each other. This is something I don’t really see as a problem now, for two reasons. 1: Many of us are the same way, keeping our professional and social spheres apart. 2: They do intersect. The intersection is Ryan. The threat of a new direction in his working life doesn’t does affect his relationship with Alex, not directly but through the change it has on him. There are two different stories at play in Up in the Air, but it’s one and the same main character in both of them.

I maintain that Clooney’s role as an assassin in the brilliant and underrated character study The American is his finest work to date, but his turn as Ryan Bingham isn’t far behind and is certainly the more pleasant of the two. Ryan is very charismatic, always ready and willing to turn his charm on but smart enough to know not to when he’s firing people in his job. This is one of those roles where Clooney is constantly acting, even when he’s not the focus of a scene (keep an eye on him during the part where Alex is consoling Natalie; he’s always smiling or frowning or doing something). It’s a character it’s easy for us to buy an actor like Clooney playing, but that doesn’t mean he’s just coasting by. He’s working the character for all its worth. And his two co-stars are equally great. Vera Farmiga is alluring as Alex, the kind of woman you’d just as easily fall in love with as Ryan does, and there are plenty of nuances to the performance that really shine through when you know how the story will play out. Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick plays Natalie as an ambitious rookie, full of confidence that you know just won’t be able to hold up. She fires off her lines with stable precision when the character is working, but it’s in a party scene where she lets her hair down that Natalie becomes a fully fledged character. This is where her professional and social spheres converge.

It came as a surprise to me, but I found myself loving Up in the Air this time around. Removed from all the Oscar hoopla, I find little to complain about. It knows when to push the comedy and when to give breathing room to allow the viewer to ponder the emotional sides of the story. It’s very funny, and the funny comes both in the lines the character deliver and in the all too recognizable situations they find themselves in. It’s not profound or revelatory in the plot elements it touches on (which might be what disappointed me the first time around), but it doesn’t have to be. And it’s not something we’ve seen a million times before. Ryan isn’t a detached grouch who learns to become a better man; he’s pleasant and happy from the start and finds new pleasures and ways to be happy as the film progresses. I hesitate to call it a character study, but perhaps that’s what it is. It has an engaging plot, tons of humor, an easy-going intelligence to its proceedings and some stellar acting. What’s not to like? I wish I’d have seen all this the first time I saw the film, but better late than never.

Score: 5/5


Posted by on 9 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews


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Rewatch Review – Inglourious Basterds

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t entirely happy with seeing Quentin Tarantino‘s World War 2 fable Inglourious Basterds at the top of the poll when I decided to do my next rewatch. First and only time I watched it was over two years ago when it was still new to most, and I know I really liked it at the time (otherwise, it’s unlikely the DVD would have ended up in my collection). I just couldn’t for the life of me remember why. Wasn’t it just a whole bunch of drawn-out scenes with the usual Tarantino-type babbling? I was sure I was going to be bored and underwhelmed having to sit through its 2.5 hour running time.

But once I sat down, those worries were dispelled quickly as the opening scene unfolded before my eyes. As SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogates a dairy farmer (Denis Menochet) about the whereabouts of a missing Jewish family in the area, not only is the plot of the film kicked off but some of its recurring traits are also established. For instance, the importance of reputation (“But you are aware of what they call me? What are you aware of?”). Or, more notably, Tarantino’s teriffic sense of how to establish and extend tension. The first scene is but the first of many where you wonder just how much these characters know, what they suspect, if they can get away with it and so on. It is in this suspense that the movie’s real strength lies.

Inglourious Basterds is on the surface a fairly straight-forward genre exercise for Tarantino. Taking inspiration from films like The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of Navarone, roughly half the plot concerns the titular Basterds, a group of Jewish American soldiers who wage a guerilla war to strike fear into the hearts of the Nazis. Led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), they eventually find themselves involved in a plot to set off bombs in a Paris theater packed with high-ranking Germans (including, perhaps, Hitler himself), thus striking a crushing blow against the enemy. But wait! Said theater is owned by one Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), a young woman whose entire family was killed by the Nazis. She’s out for revenge and independently hatches her own plan to burn down the cinema during the big gala event. So the two plot threads of the Basterds and Shosanna are poised to collide, it seems. And always a looming threat is Colonel Landa, assigned with supervising security at the theater for the night.

"That's a bingo!"

Ah, yes, Landa. Christoph Walts is the one who was singled out by the awards circuit, and I find it hard to argue with that. In a vast field of colorful but somewhat flat characters, his is the one with the most intrigue. With childlike glee and polite manners he toys with his opponents, making sure that they never know how much he knows (him ordering a glass of milk for someone at a restaurant might be one of cinema’s bigger understated dick moves). Hunting jews is his job, and he’s damn good at it. It’s a very fun performance by Waltz, and he commands every scene he’s in.

Compared to him, every other character seems almost one-dimensional. Laurent’s Shosanna might be the closest thing the film has to a proper protagonist, but she’s defined solely by her desire for revenge. Brad Pitt is given little to do other than delivering speeches and arguing in a thick southern accent (humorously present even when dropping a few choice words in Italian). Other members of the Basterds squad, such as Til Schweiger‘s Stiglitz and Eli Roth‘s “Bear Jew” Donny Donowitz (a role originally offered to Adam Sandler), are rough and tough badasses adept at killing Nazis and little else. Some other principal characters include German actress and double agent Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), Nazi war hero slash heartthrob Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) and British officer Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) who’s tasked with setting the Basterds’ Operation Kino is motion.

Inglourious Basterds didn’t improve for me on this second watch. Some of the suspense is understandably lost when you know who’s going to die where and when the bad guys will seize the advantage. It is also kind of odd to see certain characters get grand introductions knowing that they won’t actually end up doing much in the film. I am actually slightly mystified at the immense love this film has garnered. It certainly doesn’t have the complexity of a Pulp Fiction, nor the flashiness of a Kill Bill. Yet it seemed to appear on everyone’s Top 10 of its year. On a movie subforum I frequent, it somehow ended up at #17 on a voted list of the top 100 movies of all time, behind 12 Angry Men and Seven Samurai but ahead of Vertigo and Casablanca. I struggle to see such greatness in it.

But being “not the best movie Tarantino has ever done” can still be better than most, and make no mistake: I really like Inglourious Basterds. It’s a highly entertaining romp, gleefully altering the real events of World War 2 to tell an engrossing story of vengeance and violence. Tarantino’s trademark love of cinema is clearly present throughout, the set designs impress and it is somewhat liberating that the characters are allowed to speak the languages they should (I’m always irked by Germans speaking English with an accent when they should be speaking German, for instance). The film moves at a brisk pace, making the 150-ish minute run time fly by with no fidgetting in the seat, and the director’s penchant for irrelevant small-talk in his characters is kept relatively restrained. On its own merits, Inglourious Basterds is a great watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself revisiting it again in the neat future.

Score: 4/5


Posted by on 7 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews