Glorious "Basterds"

by Alan Rapp on August 21, 2009

in Print Reviews

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker. Love him or hate him, the man has a passion and reverence for cinema as well as a definite style in crafting his own projects.

Inglourious Basterds“, the writer/director’s latest, took more than a decade to come to the screen. The film is many things; one that it is not is boring. Insane and glorious, Tarantino has finally succeeded in crafting a film I can’t help but love.

inglourious basterds cap 1Although I’ve always respected Tarantino as a director (less so as a producer), and will easily admit to the quality of “Pulp Fiction”, at times his career has taken him down paths I wasn’t keen on following.

I had a mixed reaction to “Kill Bill: Vol. 1″ and I’ve forgotten nearly everything associated with part two (except my disappointment).

I give him full credit in making strong choices with his stories and jumping in with both feet. Kill Bill just wasn’t my type of crazy; Inglourious Basterds is. And, oh boy, is it crazy! What can you say about a movie where a man beats another to death with a baseball bat and American soldier (Brad Pitt) with a strong southern accent, and little knowledge of any foreign language, tries to pass himself off as an Italian to the Nazi brass?

If you’re like me, you just smile, shake your head, and enjoy the ride. Although I was an appreciator of his work, until this point I wasn’t really a fan of Tarantino. Inglourious Basterds won me over, both early and often, and now I can no longer make that claim.

I have a suspicion that, had he lived to see it, Frank Capra would have enjoyed this movie. Had the film been made sixty-years ago it would have been a perfect propaganda piece. It includes some intensely dramatic moments and short, but shockingly violent, scenes, but at its heart it’s a comedy – and a damn funny one.

inglourious basterds cap 2And while I will argue the film is a comedy, and the best the director has delivered, it’s the dramatic scenes which are the most memorable, even haunting. Two in particular come to mind, both featuring Tarantino’s trademark of long dialogues.

The first opens the film and involves Nazi officer (Christoph Waltz) discussing a missing Jewish family with one of their neighbors (Denis Menochet). I refuse to give away anything about the scene other than to say by its conclusion I was hooked.

The second scene takes place further into the film in a bar when the plans of the Basterds begin to go awry. Although it occurs much later, and focuses on an entirely different group of characters, it is no less powerful. Each scene not only gives us a slow build-up to an immediate payoff, but each outcome is woven into the larger storyline of the film.

I’ve gotten this far and not discussed the title characters, shame on me. The Basterds are a feared group of Jewish American soldiers, led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Pitt), whose very mention brings terror to the Nazis and throws Adolf Hitler (Martin Wuttke) into a tizzy. Known for their scalping of dead Nazis, and their even more notorious marking of those they let live, their exploits have become the stuff of legend.

inglorious-basterds-cap-4.jpgThe rest of the nefarious team includes “The Bear Jew” (Eli Roth, in a surprisingly good performance), Samm Levine, Omar Ulmer, Gedeon Burkhard, B. J. Novak, and Til Schweiger as Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (who earns his own 70′s style opening sequence). At points in the film the team is also helped by German actress turned Allied spy Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) and the roguishly charming Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender).

I’m a big fan of Kruger, who I’ll admit carrying a small torch for. I mention this because as good as she is in the film she’s overshadowed by an actress I hadn’t even heard of before. The marvelous French actress Mélanie Laurent plays a theater owner mooned over by a Nazi war hero (Daniel Brühl) with her own plans for bringing the curtain down on the war. She’s so good she nearly steals the film from Pitt (whose plays the Southern dry humor for all its worth) and Waltz (who owns the screen every time the “Jew Hunter” appears). There’s one scene between Waltz and Laurent in a restaurant that which contains more tension than several full-length films I’ve seen this year.

And they are not alone as the film is filled from top to bottom with great performances. Even Michael Meyers, who shows up in a cameo as a British general in a piece of stunt casting, doesn’t seem out of place.

inglorious basterds cap 3I’ve also got to mention cinematographer Robert Richardson (“The Aviator,” “Kill Bill,” “The Good Shepherd”). As a period piece, even a comedic one, the look and feel is perfect. There are several small choices including the placement of camera and use of shadow which Richardson and Tarantino use to help tell their tale. And it’s simply gorgeous. Everything, from the humorous to the more violent moments, is lovingly captured on film. The entire enterprise embraces a brutal gleeful absurdity that builds to an explosive conclusion.

My only real complaint with the film (other than the over-the-top Hitler) is the climax when the level of madness boils so far over that for a moment I was taken aback. However, by that point in the narrative I had long bought into the story and the moments following more make up for this short derailment.

I can’t recommend the film highly enough and it easily falls into the category of one of the best films I have seen this year. You’ll need a strong stomach to take some of the more violent moments, and a bit of whimsy to enjoy the more crazy elements. If you think you can manage that then this is a must-see. Fans of film, and not just those of Tarantino, should give “Inglourious Basterds” a good long look. I think you’ll be glad you did.

A stalwart fan of under-appreciated cinematic gems such as Condorman, Alan Rapp has harangued, belittled, and argued with just about every Scene-Stealers contributor ever. More of his insight, comic nerdiness, and righteous fury can be found at dadsbigplan, RazorFine Review, and ‘Xplosion of Awesome, and the Four Color Freak-Out podcast.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Xavier August 21, 2009 at 7:31 am

Personally I love tarantino films, although I have to agree with you about Kill Bill, I can’t wait to see this film, he’s had a couple of misses but by and large tarantino makes good films.

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2 Xavier August 21, 2009 at 7:31 am

Personally I love tarantino films, although I have to agree with you about Kill Bill, I can’t wait to see this film, he’s had a couple of misses but by and large tarantino makes good films.

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3 Clark August 21, 2009 at 8:34 am

I’m just the opposite. I didn’t like any Tarantino film until Kill Bill. I saw Volume 1 many times and really enjoyed it, but felt Volume 2 dragged and was another “Tarantino movie”, with long dialogues that had no purpose.
I’m not so hyped to see Basterds. The trailer looked awful.

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4 Clark August 21, 2009 at 8:34 am

I’m just the opposite. I didn’t like any Tarantino film until Kill Bill. I saw Volume 1 many times and really enjoyed it, but felt Volume 2 dragged and was another “Tarantino movie”, with long dialogues that had no purpose.
I’m not so hyped to see Basterds. The trailer looked awful.

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5 Jay August 22, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I have to say I was disappointed. Overall it was good, but not for Tarantino. The movie was too long and Tarantino indulged his artistic side too often at the expense of the flow of the storyline. I also thought they went too far re-writing history in the story, which left me shaking my head. I understand fudging to make your story fit, but the complete historical re-write was silly.

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6 Jay August 22, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I have to say I was disappointed. Overall it was good, but not for Tarantino. The movie was too long and Tarantino indulged his artistic side too often at the expense of the flow of the storyline. I also thought they went too far re-writing history in the story, which left me shaking my head. I understand fudging to make your story fit, but the complete historical re-write was silly.

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7 Gab & Dad August 22, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Basterds was not a perfect movie, nor Tarantino’s ‘masterpiece’…. But overall it was an immensely enjoyable experience. Great performances, entertaining sequences, and as always a love of cinema comes through. Some scenes need less self-indulgence. Speaking of which, check out my Basterds review with my father, at: http://www.youtube.com/gabndad

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8 Gab & Dad August 22, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Basterds was not a perfect movie, nor Tarantino’s ‘masterpiece’…. But overall it was an immensely enjoyable experience. Great performances, entertaining sequences, and as always a love of cinema comes through. Some scenes need less self-indulgence. Speaking of which, check out my Basterds review with my father, at: http://www.youtube.com/gabndad

Reply

9 Rachelle August 25, 2009 at 12:50 am

I loved it, but I am a huge fan Tarantino’s. I’ve always liked his dialogs, and found many of the subtitles humorous as well. Without the huge amount of re-writing history, this movie would not have been such a fun ride. If I remember correctly, at the end of the credits it said something along the lines of, “based upon actual events. . .” and that was even funny. Nazi movies always leave me upset and feeling bad for the Jews. This was the first time I saw a Nazi movie that made me want to be jewish so I could cheer even more for the Basterds.

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10 Rachelle August 25, 2009 at 12:50 am

I loved it, but I am a huge fan Tarantino’s. I’ve always liked his dialogs, and found many of the subtitles humorous as well. Without the huge amount of re-writing history, this movie would not have been such a fun ride. If I remember correctly, at the end of the credits it said something along the lines of, “based upon actual events. . .” and that was even funny. Nazi movies always leave me upset and feeling bad for the Jews. This was the first time I saw a Nazi movie that made me want to be jewish so I could cheer even more for the Basterds.

Reply

11 Phil August 25, 2009 at 1:20 pm
12 Phil August 25, 2009 at 1:20 pm
13 Eric Melin August 25, 2009 at 1:23 pm

OK, finally saw it over the weekend. This is typical Tarantino, but in the best possible way. It’s so refreshing to see a filmmaker who takes time to develop scenes and have characters talk all around what they are actually saying. The tension is unbearable at times and the humor is very evident, even in the darkest passages. Are the Nazis the only pure “bad guys” left out there? Apparently, they are quite ripe for caricature. That said, Waltz (who plays Jew Hunter Col. Landa) is brilliant, by turns funny and Lecter scary, and Pitt is hilarious. Tarantino uses what we know about WWII horror movies to his advantage and delivers something different altogether. Fresh? yes. Funny? Yes. In bad taste? I don’t think so.

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14 Eric Melin August 25, 2009 at 1:23 pm

OK, finally saw it over the weekend. This is typical Tarantino, but in the best possible way. It’s so refreshing to see a filmmaker who takes time to develop scenes and have characters talk all around what they are actually saying. The tension is unbearable at times and the humor is very evident, even in the darkest passages. Are the Nazis the only pure “bad guys” left out there? Apparently, they are quite ripe for caricature. That said, Waltz (who plays Jew Hunter Col. Landa) is brilliant, by turns funny and Lecter scary, and Pitt is hilarious. Tarantino uses what we know about WWII horror movies to his advantage and delivers something different altogether. Fresh? yes. Funny? Yes. In bad taste? I don’t think so.

Reply

15 dr_C August 30, 2009 at 4:54 pm

The best acting was clearly by Christoph Walz. While Pitt tried to do a southern accent, Walz came through with tremendous acting in several mood-setting scenes, several languages. He was a classy gentleman, interrogator, prankster, and killer. Walz handled his role very well.

C.

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16 dr_C August 30, 2009 at 4:54 pm

The best acting was clearly by Christoph Walz. While Pitt tried to do a southern accent, Walz came through with tremendous acting in several mood-setting scenes, several languages. He was a classy gentleman, interrogator, prankster, and killer. Walz handled his role very well.

C.

Reply

17 Reed October 5, 2009 at 9:26 am

Solid review, Alan. Excellent comments here from everyone as well. I finally got to see this one over the weekend, and I still haven’t decided if I will do a full review on my blog or not.

I’ll say this. Tarantino is one of my favorite directors, and I think this is his weakest film to date. I happen to think the others range from VeryGood to OneOfTheGreatestFilmsOfAllTime, so I’m not exactly saying his efforts are wasted here. I think he took a lot of risks with this one, more than he ever has before. To make such a ridiculous farce about Nazis and the Holocaust really pushes things to another limit. Furthermore, to not simply put everything in English (aside from the film within a film within a film at the climax) took a lot of balls, and says a lot about the times we’re living in.

Man, I have a lot more thoughts on this, but I’ll cut it off there. I think that this is the kind of movie for which any opinion is imminently defensible. One could argue that they hate it or love it and have every justification for that view. I ended up somewhere in the middle, but didn’t feel like I had wasted my time.

Reply

18 Reed October 5, 2009 at 9:26 am

Solid review, Alan. Excellent comments here from everyone as well. I finally got to see this one over the weekend, and I still haven’t decided if I will do a full review on my blog or not.

I’ll say this. Tarantino is one of my favorite directors, and I think this is his weakest film to date. I happen to think the others range from VeryGood to OneOfTheGreatestFilmsOfAllTime, so I’m not exactly saying his efforts are wasted here. I think he took a lot of risks with this one, more than he ever has before. To make such a ridiculous farce about Nazis and the Holocaust really pushes things to another limit. Furthermore, to not simply put everything in English (aside from the film within a film within a film at the climax) took a lot of balls, and says a lot about the times we’re living in.

Man, I have a lot more thoughts on this, but I’ll cut it off there. I think that this is the kind of movie for which any opinion is imminently defensible. One could argue that they hate it or love it and have every justification for that view. I ended up somewhere in the middle, but didn’t feel like I had wasted my time.

Reply

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