Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Inglourious Basterds (2009) Review

Inglourious Basterds
Producer: So you’re going to make a movie about Nazi-scalping Jews?
Tarantino: That’s about it…or not

Although the above conversation probably never happened, it does remind me of the mixed reaction that Basterds received at the Cannes Film Festival, and I can see why. People went in to see a traditional gloriously (ingloriously?) bloody exploitation movie where a bunch of Jewish-Americans get dropped behind enemy lines so they can bring the pain to the Nazis, or Naatzees as Lt. Aldo Raine calls them. What they got was essentially “Pulp WWII Fiction”, with multiple stories that eventually come together at the end for the final showdown. And in hindsight, what else should audiences have expected? It is a Quentin Tarantino movie after all. The man’s most traditional movie is arguably Death Proof, and even that movie couldn’t escape from the director’s trademark touches. So now that most people know what kind of a movie Inglourious Basterds really is, allow me to dive right into it.

Plot Synopsis: After losing her family at the hands of Nazi S.S. officer Hans Landa, French Jew Shosanna Dreyfus manages to escape his grasp and disappear into the countryside. Four years later, Shosanna has assumed a new identity in France and is running a movie theater. Soon she meets a friendly Nazi soldier named Frederick Zoller, who brings her in to meet the head of the German film industry and tells her that they wish to play a propaganda movie called Nations Pride at her theater, which details Frederick’s heroic defense against the Allies. When she learns that pretty much the entire Nazi high command will be attending the premiere, she hatches a plan that could end the war overnight. Meanwhile, a group of Jewish-Americans, nicknamed "The Basterds" by the Nazis, meet up with a British officer who is going to meet German double agent/actress Bridget von Hammersmarck. Bridget tells them about the premiere of Nations Pride, and the group maps out their own plan to murder the Nazi high command. But things get complicated when they learn that not only is Hans Landa the head of security, but also that Hitler is attending the premiere too.


Now I’m sure that those out there who haven’t seen a Tarantino movie are wondering what I mean by his “trademark touches.” Well for one thing there are five different chapters where the first three mainly focus on Landa, Shossanna, and the Basterds, while chapters four and five detail the planning and destruction of the movie theater. One (Shosanna’s escape) and four (meeting with Bridget) are the weakest, mainly because Tarantino seems to have kept in every minute of them without editing. Not that they are bad, they do have some great moments, but Quentin drags the dialogue-suspense on for so long that it soon becomes tiring. The best sections are two, three, and five, which show the Basterds scalping Nazis, Shosanna meeting Zoller, and the explosive ending respectively. After the slow burn of chapter one, things kick into high gear with chapter two as the Basterds interrogate a bunch of Nazi soldiers while they scalp their dead comrades. Blood-soaked baseball bats, snappy one-liners, Brad Pitt’s Texas accent, and even a little Samuel L. Jackson narration make this a very fun-filled section. Three returns to the suspense tactics from the beginning, as Shosanna has a little reunion with Landa, but the editing is much tighter here and doesn’t drag on. And finally we have the fifth chapter, where all hell breaks loose and some (that’s putting it lightly) history is rewritten. If you can stick it out, the ending is worth the price of admission alone.


As with any Tarantino movie, we have a colorful cast of characters played out with zest by each of their respective actors. Sure Brad Pitt’s southern accent is questionable, but there is no denying that Aldo Raine, leader of the Basterds, is one of the more memorable characters in the movie. With his quick wit and Swastika carving temptations, Raine is likely to send you home with a humiliating mark but not before wrangling some helpful information out of you. Melanie Laurent is a real find as the older Shosanna, who isn’t as helpless as her mousy looks would imply. Her moment of release after seeing Landa again is a sublime acting moment, and I hope we see more of her in the future. On the Nazi side, we have Christoph Waltz as the slimy Hans Landa, a.k.a. “The Jew Hunter”. Waltz is truly a revelation, slithering his way through the movie using his charm to seduce the prey before brutally striking them down. In time, Landa may go down as one of the great screen villains in recent memory. The Basterd’s equivalent of Landa comes in the form of Donny, a.k.a. “The Bear Jew”, who beats helpless Nazis with his Louisville Slugger. Unfortunately, Donny is the weakest element of the movie, as Eli Roth (Tarantino’s friend and director of Hostel) hams up the screen with his cringe inducing performance. Also look for cameos from Harvey Keitel, Mike Myers, and the aforementioned Samuel L. Jackson.

Basterds is not your traditional WWII movie, it is clearly a Tarantino fantasy through and through. The Basterds are treated like a fairy tale ghost story among the Nazi ranks that isn’t dared mentioned until they reappear. As I said, history is given a huge overhaul here, but it’s such an invigorating redo that I couldn’t care less. It is like a propaganda movie that would’ve been made around WWII to give the Jews a chance to cheer and fight back, and I think that is Tarantino’s point about the power of movies. We watch Basterds because we want to see Nazis' heads get bashed in, just like the Nazis watch Nations Pride to watch Zoller destroy the Allied ranks. To cap it off, we get one of the most satisfying and applause worthy final scenes in the past few decades. Time well spent.

Note: Below my rating is an unused poster for the movie, which happens to be much better than the existing one!



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