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Movie Review - 'Inglourious Basterds'

Inglourious Basterds

Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, and Mélanie Laurent
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Rated R

basterdsposter.jpg As I left the theater following Inglourious Basterds, I overheard a young man say to his friend, "That's the best World War II movie I've ever seen."

The question isn't whether or not this is the "best" anything. That first moment after a film, when you finally have a chance to discuss it, is almost always when you love or hate it most. We find ourselves talking in superlatives, almost irrationally. You've just been on a roller coaster ride; of course you're at the extreme position.

The question is whether or not this is a WWII movie. Historically, artistically, no. It takes place in the 40s in Nazi-occupied France and there are soldiers, American, British, and German. But it doesn't enhance our understanding of the battle, the times, the climates, the nationalism, or even those fighting on the front lines.

If you're putting it in a box based on the plot, Inglourious Basterds is a revenge flick, pure and simple. Of course, this is a Quentin Tarantino movie, and his films are very hard to put in a box. If you've seen Tarantino films before, you know how profane and violent they tend to be. It's cartoony and desensitized, sophomoric even. But in that sense and several others, Inglourious Basterds is QT's most sophisticated movie, and without question the most focused film he's ever written and directed.

There is profanity, sure, but much less than on average, and there's violence, though much less than you would expect given these circumstances. It should also be pointed out that the violence punctuates the action, usually with an exclamation mark, but it is hardly the center of attention you might think it is.

After all, this is a movie about Jewish-American soldiers deployed into France to kill as many Nazis as they can find. As an added bonus, their commanding officer, Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), has Apache blood, so the calling card of the Basterds is to take their fallen opponents' scalps. Sounds more violent than it is, though, in all honesty.

Instead, what we get is trademark character development and clever, tireless dialogue by Tarantino. Because of his very specific style, his films have been indelibly quotable over the years. I don't think I walked away with a lot of memorable lines this time, a sign of how his characters are less about Quentin Tarantino and more about serving the story. Most people don't talk in quotes, you know. But the dialogue is rich, serviceable, and meaningful.

As far as that is concerned, it never gets better than in the film's opening scene, in which Nazi officer Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogates a French dairy farmer in his home about whether or not he's sheltering French Jews. The scene must go on for a good ten or twelve minutes, and it's just two characters, but functions primarily as a monologue for Landa. It left me knock-kneed. There's evidence of it in this scene and our supsicions are confirmed throughout Inglourious Basterds that Landa is the smartest, most refined, charming, and resourceful character in the film.

And though Pitt gets star billing, it's only because he's a movie star. Waltz is one of two driving forces in the film, along with the beautiful French actress Mélanie Laurent, who in addition to making a damn good heroine in an action movie, manages to tell her character's entire tortured life story with her eyes. She plays a Jew living and working in Paris under an assumed identity. She owns a cinema where Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels hopes to premiere a new film about a German war hero. In 1944, with the Allied forces storming Normandy, this kind of film would embolden the crumbling Nazi machine and perhaps the morale of its troops as well. What better way for a Jew to plot a massive assassination attempt?

The Basterds are cooking up their own plot, which is ratcheted up when they learn through a movie star-turned-double-agent (Diane Kruger) that Hitler plans to attend the premiere. Of course, planning is not exactly what the Basterds do best.

At a little over two-and-a-half hours, Inglourious Basterds is a tad longwinded, but never feels taxing the way a lot of longer movies do these days. It helps that there are three protracted scenes that occupy about a third of the film's total running time and are all excellent. There are things that should be thrown out, like a strange, itinerant use of a narrator (Samuel L. Jackson) beginning about 30 minutes into the movie, and some usual Tarantino tricks like anachronistic music cues. Those are relatively minor setbacks, and you have to afford Tarantino a little bit of that madness; it's just who he is.

In the final analysis, no, this is not the best World War II movie ever, as the young man in the theater suggested. It is, however, certainly Tarantino's second-best film, trailing only the genre-bending Pulp Fiction. It's really that good.

Reader Comments (4)


Just got back from a showing, it was just stupendous, the day I saw it is (a Sunday at 7pm showing in 3/4 full house) I have never before heard an audience actually CLAP/APPLAUD after a film that has not been on an opening night Friday showing!!!!

The film was remarkable and YES 2nd best to Pulp Fiction but a very close 2nd in my opinion which may be taking it far, but thats how much I loved the film

""If you've seen Tarantino films before, you know how profane and violent they tend to be. It's cartoony and desensitized, sophomoric even. But in that sense and several others, Inglourious Basterds is QT's most sophisticated movie, and without question the most focused film he's ever written and directed.""""

I couldn't agree with you MORE on this point you made.... As I watching I was even aware of the cartoonish and desensitized attribute of the film but that tad bit is his only negative in my opinion, but FOR QT it is NOT a negative B/C that is WHAT YOU WOULD EXPECT FROM A QT FILM!!!!

""Instead, what we get is trademark character development and clever, tireless dialogue by Tarantino.""""

COULDNT AGREE MORE!!! You took the words out of my mouth...What brilliant writing, I mean what effortless dialogue for the characters, and what amazing and steady progression the dialogue led to, it enhance the story and plot to such a great deal...

I wanted to coming into this film, focus more specifically on the words by the characters, and how QT's dialogue progressed the movie or hindered it. It was remarkable, it was meaningful and rich, I can see now why this took him 10 years to ultimately finish.

Moving on from the writing...
-The visuals were just phenomenol, QT has a magnificent eye. His awareness and storytelling with the camera and how to use that camera toward his very unique vision is something very few directors have,
---when you SEE a Tarantino movie you know its him b/c of his uniqueness and vision...

I have to agree again with you COLIN....
-Hans Landa scene in the beginning is quite the scene! We get a very close indepth view of this "Jew Hunter" in the beginning of the film, we get to see his psyche and his attributes, his demeanor, his charm, and his sly-cunningness...
A brilliant move by QT once again!

I can see clearly now why Christoph Waltz won Cannes Best Actor Prize, he truly deserved it and I can tell he was so lost in his character I truly believed he was that smart and a ruthless killer...
--Where has this man been b/c Christoph Waltz should be getting much more great work in American cinema...
---I can tell why QT was quoted as saying Christoph Waltz made his movie come together and if there was no Christoph Waltz there would be no Inglorious Basterds!!!!

Melanie Laurent did beautiful as well...She brought so many layers to a small part with much less lines than Landa and made us root for her and want her to succeed.

- great casting by QT, all the player were picked incredibly well and suited for their roles
-amazing visually with just a $70million budget, I thought just by looking at the film and technically wise, I thought it was much much more..
-amazing dialogue QT is truly a masterpiece of words and I feel like he will only get better
-I feel like he saved a movie company, we all know Weinstein Company was on the rocks and if word of mouth helps and overseas will do great I'm sure, he literally saved their ass and they should give him a fucking bonus if you ask me..
-screw Sam Jacksons voice too, that was dumb
-loved the score ah what a score, it truly enhanced the viewing for me even though I did have a sense of anticipating bad things to come

Great film but does anyone agree with my rather bold statement...
=QT should get nominated for Best Original Screenplay, well see how the rest of the year plays out, but I feel like he really should....Is that going too far???

Sunday, August 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSEAN

I waited to read any reviews of this film until I saw it for myself due to the polarizing effect that QT has on audiences and critics alike. That being said, I saw the movie yesterday and loved it. I'm a huge QT fan and find the movie in his top 2 as well. Colin, you have officially become my favorite critic. I can always trust your opinion and find that I agree with what you have to say, mostly. Kudos.

Monday, August 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

Just saw the movie tonight, and would agree with colin. This by far the best film Tarantino has done since Pulp Fiction. Why did it take so long to see a fillm from Tarantino that was worth spending the money in a theatre. What was holding him back this long? Tarantino has put a lot of violent scenes in his films, some worked the film well and most just didn't make sense. Bastards was one of those few films that the Tarantino violence worked well. Not sure if it would make it to the oscars as a candidate, it should.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one. The film I saw was QT at his most self absorbed and most over indulgent. For a film called "Inglourious Basterds" there was almost NO character development for them at all. They were really barely in damn movie. It wasn't that the story of the Jewish cinema owner wasn't an interesting story, it probably WAS a better story than that of Aldo and The Basterds, problem is by trying to do both, he failed at both since the tone of the two stories were so discordant. Then to top it off, he spent way too much time developing characters introduced in one overlong scene that were there JUST to be killed in their next overlong scene. In the end he just committed what is pretty much the one cardinal sin of movie making. He made it boring. I even felt his patented dialogue was way to self-aware to be really interesting this time. I'm going to say it: "The Emperor has NO clothes..." QT hasn't made even a decent film in YEARS. He's become so full of himself and his cleverness he is just getting in his own way. I really hope someday soon he'll get over himself and go back to actually making good films.

Friday, September 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShawn(No, not your BROTHER Sean...)

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