Monday, August 24, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

With Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino brings his elegant street dialogue to World War II, and it works splendidly. Leave it to the writer/director of Pulp Fiction to put his own unique spins on a genre that’s been done to death. Of all the great WWII movies, you’ve probably never seen one so dialogue-centric. The trademark style that placed Quentin Tarantino at the forefront of American filmmaking is back, and it’s still as witty, shocking, funny, violent, and just plain cool as it ever was.

Set in Nazi-occupied France, Inglourious Basterds follows a small team of Jewish-American soldiers, nicknamed, you guessed it, the Basterds. Led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), their mission is to strike fear into the Germans by “doin’ one thing and one thing only: killin’ Nazis.” Lt. Raine tells his soldiers early on, “Each man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps.” Unfortunately for our eyes, he’s not being figurative. A subplot involves Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a beautiful young woman who wants revenge on the Nazis for her parents’ deaths. She plans, along with the Basterds, to sabotage a Nazi movie premiere where several high-ranking officers will be in attendance, including the Führer himself, Adolf Hitler.

Like all of Tarantino’s films, Inglourious Basterds is a movie in love with movies, alluding not only to numerous other films, but even building on Tarantino’s previous works. The film utilizes on-screen chapter breaks with titles, the way Kill Bill did, and the film opens with, “Chapter One: Once Upon a Time ... in Nazi-occupied France ...” Chapter One of Inglourious Basterds should be shown to film school students as a lesson in suspense. The dialogue and performances are simply unforgettable, and the overall quality of the opening sequence proves that Quentin Tarantino is still at the top of his game.

The use of the opening phrase, “Once Upon a Time” is very appropriate, because in many ways, Inglourious Basterds is a fairy tale. Not only does it utilize heavily stylized dialogue and artistic visuals that give it a surreal quality, but without disclosing specifics, it deals in alternative history. Many historical figures appear, from Winston Churchill to Joseph Goebbels, but make no mistake that this is WWII as it could have been, not as it was. Along with this storytelling choice comes a new level of suspense; you’re never sure where certain scenes are going.

Violence doesn’t appear as frequently here as in Kill Bill, but when it does appear, it’s every bit as graphic. Inglourious Basterds shows some brutal, cold-blooded stuff: scalping, shooting, burning, beating, carving ... it’s not for the queasy, and you may need to/want to look away at certain moments. The audience I was in made plenty of noises that showed they were sufficiently grossed out, but in a fun, over-the-top action movie kind of way.

As is always the case with Tarantino’s films, the performances are top notch. Brad Pitt delivers all of his lines with a thick Southern accent, and his homespun country phrasing provides most of the laughs. I suspect that the intentional misspelling of both words in the title of the film alludes to his Southern drawl pronunciation. Mélanie Laurent is very memorable as the cold, gorgeous Shosanna, but the show-stopping performance comes from Christoph Waltz as the chief villain, Col. Hanz Landa. He brings a chilling friendliness to this vicious Nazi officer so that you’re never sure which of his “cordial” conversations will end in bloodshed. It’s still fairly early in the year, but when the Oscars roll around, a Best Supporting Actor nomination may be in order.

Inglourious Basterds isn’t as much of a masterpiece as Kill Bill (and I don’t expect him to ever make a better film than Pulp Fiction), but it does make for a worthy installment in Quentin Tarantino’s library. His films remain stylistically linked, but have grown quite diverse in subject matter. I greatly admire his post-Pulp Fiction achievements; he has followed-up one of the most important movies ever made, not by trying to duplicate his success, but the same way he made such a great film to begin with - by being his original self. Inglourious Basterds is a fun, violent, one-of-a-kind World War II romp.

Click here to view the trailer

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong graphic violence, language, and brief sexuality.

The violence is very bloody, very brutal, and sure to bother just about everyone on some level. The language and brief sexuality aren’t really of consequence when compared to the gore. Don’t even think about taking your kids, and use discretion with teens. The violence in Pulp Fiction is often implied, but Inglourious Basterds is more like Kill Bill in that it’s completely shown to you, scalping and all.


  1. Yeah... I need to see this movie at some point in the next couple of weeks. Would you be up for going with me whenever that may be?

    Also, I've started a personal blog, and would love it if you came and checked it out :)

    It's at

  2. Just saw this this weekend. It was my first Tarantino to see all the way through. I was amazed how much I enjoyed it. I also loved reading your commentary. Thanks for sharing your well thought-out review!

    Also -- can't wait till you and Lauren come for Summit!!