Movie review: Inglourious Basterds

basterdsThe thing about Quentin Tarantino is that everything he does must be viewed through the prism of exploitation for it to make any sense.

And so, a World War II film by the director must not be expected to follow any sort of historical verisimilitude, but instead a pulp revision featuring all of QT’s tricks and tics – introductory character title cards, fractured narratives, Samuel L. Jackson, brief bursts of shocking violence and feet.

Oh, and lots and lots of talking.

When “Basterds” finally came to fruition (after years of Tarantino claiming the film would be his next work), it was sold as a hyper-violent tale of war and retribution. Instead, it plays a lot more like “Death Proof,” an extremely talky piece that could have fared much better with some judicious editing.

No one denies Tarantino’s writing talent, but it’s also clear that no one loves the sound of his own voice more than he does. At 160 minutes (trimmed from its Cannes debut), you could easily trim 40 more and not miss the essence.

After a (long) prologue, we are introduced to Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who is in the process of creating a special unit of Jewish soldiers tasked with one thing – killing Nazi soldiers. Before long, Raine’s “Inglourious Basterds” have stricken fear throughout the Nazi party, all the way up to the Furher himself.

At the same time, the young girl from the prologue, Shoshonna (Melanie Laurent), having escaped the clutches of the nefarious Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz), has moved to Paris, where she runs a movie theatre. Shoshonna catches the eye of a young Nazi soldier (Daniel Bruhl), who just so happens to be the centerpiece of Dr. Joseph Goebbels’ latest propoganda film. When the premiere is scheduled for Shoshonna’s theatre, she comes up with a plan to kill everyone inside.

The Basterds are planning the same thing, using German film star Diane von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) to get into the building and unleash their plan. Unfortunately, the plan goes awry, leading to a few critical adjustments.

All this plot is delivered with typical Tarantino panache, but I felt myself looking at my watch on more than one occasion. Scenes simply went on and on – at times it worked, as in the bar scene, and others it served no purpose other than QT to unfurl more of his purple prose.

This leads to a rather audacious conclusion, one that will make WWII historians roll over in their graves, but a fun one nonetheless – the release to all the buildup of the two-plus prior hours.

Pitt brings his rakish charm to the role of Raine, if not his best Southern accent, but the two real discoveries here are Waltz, who nails the role of Landa – this will turn him into a household name in the U.S. – and Laurent, who imbues Shoshonna with the perfect amount of slow burn hatred and justifiable fear regarding her suicide mission.

Frankly, I’m shocked that this has become the biggest hit of Tarantino’s career. From the bait-and-switch advertising to the relative lack of Pitt to the fact that half the film is spoken in some language other than English, it’s a total surprise that audiences have embraced this.

I’d say it’s a good, not great addition to the Tarantino canon, but frankly, I’d be more interested in him revisiting “Jackie Brown” territory before doing something like this again.


~ by Elliott on September 17, 2009.

One Response to “Movie review: Inglourious Basterds”

  1. Love, love, LOVE Christoph Waltz. He will go down as one of the coolest villains in movie history, mark my words. Laurent, too, is very good — steely and vulnerable all at once.

    I’d have to disagree that the film felt long, though. This is the first time in many years that I remember sitting through a movie that approached the three-hour mark and didn’t check my watch once.

    Though “Inglourious Basterds” will not top “Reservoir Dogs” in my book, it’s still a damn fine film.

    M. Carter @ the Movies

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