Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Eli Roth
Directed by Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill)
Rated R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality
Appropriate for ages 17+

    Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist history fantasia follows a group of Jewish soldiers that are sent into German-occupied France during World War II with one mission: kill as many Nazis as possible.  Led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Pitt), they set off through France leaving a blood-soaked trail of Nazi corpses in their wake. 

    Many words can be used to describe Tarantino’s work.  Creative.  Original.  Funny.  Ultra-violent.  Warped.  Engaging.  Inglourious Basterds is each one of these and more. 

    It is by far his most innovative piece to date, and that is saying a lot.  Without giving anything away, he takes many of the most famous Nazi figures and gives them alternative directions in true fantasy fashion.  It’s a “what if” of the highest order, that gives the audience not only a sense of revenge fulfillment, but a satisfaction that you rarely get from a movie nowadays. 

    As for performances, Pitt is really on his game here as Raine with yet another wonderful weird character to bolster his resume.  He has proven time and time again that he can add unique flavor to a character better than anyone in Hollywood.  He may not be the best dramatic actor in town, but with his performances in films like Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club, Snatch, and Burn After Reading, I’d put him up as the best comedic/quirky actor of our generation.

    Another standout performance is that of Christoph Waltz, who plays Col. Hans Landa, better known as “The Jew Hunter.”  I’m sure that the part is one of the best written villains in recent memory, but it was also masterfully acted by this relatively unknown thespian.  Having won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival will most likely give him a strong edge going into this year’s Oscar race. 

    So was there anything wrong with the film?  I think there are always a few of Tarantino’s idiosyncrasies that bug me, although I must admit that many of them grow on me over time.  First off, his music choices are just a little too much for me at first.  Also, he likes to take his time in some of the scenes.  For example, when the “Jewish Bear,” played by Eli Roth, makes his first appearance with his bat, it feels like minutes of listening to the bat hitting a tunnel before he appears.  The tension grows, but the tension would have been there with half the time cut out also.  Such a long wait just adds either comedy or annoyance.  Again, these types of things become enduring on film revisits. 

    I feel I must warn that there is an extreme amount of gory violence here, so if you are squeamish you might want to check out a nicer film.  As for me, this is the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year, and if you don’t mind a little Nazi killin’, you might just come out thinking the same.  A

4 Replies to “Inglourious Basterds”

  1. Not at all original; ripped off aesthetic, amateur lighting at times, muffled/unnecessary dialogue, and redundant pans. Pain in the ass of a movie to watch.

  2. A truly fantastic movie from Tarantino once again. Two comments about your review: First, as to Pitt’s acting, I think you may be forgetting Legends of the Fall. Second, speaking to the Bear Jew scene…the first exposure I ever had to a Tarantino movie was when I walked into my barracks while my roommate and friends were in the middle of the adrenaline shot scene in Pulp Fiction. As soon as I said hello to everyone I was greeted with a bevy of shushes. The bear jew was just a different version of that and is something that really is a Tarantino signature. As for the scene itself, I actually liked the length and I kept waiting for the commandant to crack. I think it may just be his masterpiece.

  3. One thing that I think is missing in the reviews of Tarantino’s movies is the degree to which he pays attention to narratives. For him, stories are as important as the actions, and these stories are most often told as pure narrations, not as cinema.

    Reservoir Dogs is all about a robbery that you don’t get to see. Instead you get narratives of the robbery, told as stories from different points of view. The stories, and the characters’ reactions to these stories, establish their relationships to one another. This dramatically broke the cardinal rule of 1960s-1980s cinema: you are supposed to show, not tell.

    Tarantino’s characters tell you one part of the story, while another orthogonal part is being shown. But the narrative part obeys all the laws of hearsay knowledge— it is unreliable, perspective dependent, and dependent on the imagination of the listener. That makes the story so much more fluid, as imagined stories become almost real through repetition, while others are shown to be false.

    Pulp fiction extended the reach of this new style filmmaking. Within that film, the characters’ narratives tell you who they are, while the action congeals with the stories that they tell into a plot. If the story were told in the 1970s style, by pure visuals, each of the narratives would have to be shown, and each narrative, which by itself only works as a spoken story, would be weakened by the definite form which an image would provide.

    In the Kill Bill stories, another aspect of narrative is explored: the relationship between the individual in focus and all the nameless henchmen that are killed. The grisly death of a thousand nameless Roman soldiers is of no consequence, because the narrative does not include the details of their experience.

    In Inglourious Basterds, these ideas are supplemented by a new one. For Nazis, it seems, the villany is so great that they can be brutalized even after they have been humanized. A soldier who won an iron cross for bravery can be pummelled with a baseball bat, even though he really is brave. The nature of what he is fighting for is so evil, that exposing no human quality won’t help. The same goes for the new father in the basement scene— he can be killed without remorse. The only time a German soldier elicits enough sympathy for a hesitation, it’s a tragedy for the character.

    And these rules only apply in the cinema dream world. In real life, a nazi does not appear much different than any other person, and killing him is just as unbearable. But in the movie world, there is no difference, because the nazi soldier has taken sides in a narrative that has more importance than any individual life.

    This distinction is at the essence of the religious view that the narratives that are established after the fact give meaning to the lives that lived through the history, and define their purpose and moral order.

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