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Aug 28, 2009

Film Review: Inglourious Basterds

inglourious-basterds-posterInglourious Basterds is a film as much about its fictionalized subject matter as it is about its director’s evolvement behind the camera. With World War II as a backdrop, director/writer Quentin Tarantino inserts his own fictional characters to tell the story of Jewish American, First Special Service Force soldiers, who voluntarily drop into Nazi-occupied France to intimidate, terrorize, and butcher anyone they came across wearing a swastika and Nazi affiliated. 

One of the best written scenes in Inglourious Basterds happens right at the beginning of the film. The scene involves Standartenfuher Hans Landa of the Waffen-SS / The Jew Hunter (Christoph Waltz) and Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menchet), a father of three daughters. Perrier is instantly trepidacious around Landa because of the mystique and rumors that propagate the French hillsides about him. It is only as the scene progresses that the viewer is shown that all is not what it seems with Landa’s insouciant manner. The more questions Landa asks, the more the viewer realizes what he already knows or assumes to be true. When Landa speaks about a hypothetic, Perrier knows he knows and the viewer knows he knows. His hard stare is its ardent harbinger.

It is showcase scenes of this nature that illustrate what a great writer Tarantino truly is and what a great actor Waltz is. Waltz literally steals every scene he is in during Inglourious Basterds and by the power of talent, becomes the most entertaining element in the scenes he inhabits.

Like so many Tarantino and Shyamalan films, there are character builder scenes in Inglourious Basterds, scenes that illuminate a person’s characteristics, pasts, and motivations for their current actions. There is the one just discussed for Standartenfuher Landa, Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) has one, as does Shosanna Dreyfus / Emmanuelle Mimieux (Melanie Lauret), and Staff Sergeant Donny Donowitz / The Bear Jew (Eli Roth). Roth was great in the Staff Sergeant Donowitz role; I loved hearing his Boston accent after he beats to death with a baseball bat Sergeant Werner Rachtman (Richard Sammel) and prances around in resplendent jubilation. All that being said, I would have loved to have seen Adam Sandler, who the character was originally written for, in the role. How much more interesting would The Bear Jew’s scenes have been with Sandler in the role, especially after seeing his dramatic turn in Punch Drunk Love?

When the Inglourious Basterds’ setting moves to the Le Gamarr Theater in Paris, owned by Emmanuelle Mimieux, the movie industry of 1944 is explored and names are thrown around that only the true cinephile will recognize. Tarantino is a student of his field and the cinema genre, as is evident with his naming of Inglourious Basterds’ characters, like First Lieutenant Aldo Raine / Aldo the Apache (Brad Pitt), after deceased actors.

Besides Waltz and Sturmbannfuhrer Dieter Hellstrom (August Diehl)’s performances, one of the primary strengths of Inglourious Basterds is the unexpected. Characters die brutally after being built up that the viewer may never have thought would be touched. In Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434 book, it says something to the effect of: Never fall in love with your characters because you will never want anything ruinous to befall them. Keeping this in mind, Inglorious Basterds has some wonderful and surprising death scenes for characters Tarantino seemed to have enjoyed creating and writing. During one scene in, the viewer probably believes a particular character is dead, which seems odd because of the way this character’s Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev exploits had been portrayed (people coming up for pictures, the movie within a movie, Nation’s Pride) and how this character had been distinguished because of it. Not only does this character put three shots into the chest of the person that shot them, while they are both on the ground dying, this person’s final act is to steady their Ruger hand pistol and deliver a fourth and most painful shot before “falling into shadow”.  

Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is the third best film he has directed behind Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. Writing-wise, it might be third or fourth behind Pulp Fiction, True Romance, and Kill Bill, (caveat: I have never read Tarantino’s original Natural Born Killers script before Oliver Stone rewrote it). Many will see Inglourious Basterds as Tarantino’s return to form after lackluster Death Proof and they would be right. Inglourious Basterds may be a fantasy World War II film but that is only the pedigree for a well-written, acted, and directed film.

Rating: 9.5/10

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  • http://www.7milesdown.com/ trench

    Told you! BEST FILM OF THE YEAR!!!

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    This film houses one of the best performances of the year but District 9 may be the best film of the year…so far.

  • http://anhkhoi.blogspot.com Anh Khoi Do

    I personally would have quite a hard time deciding which movie – between The Hurt Locker, District 9 or Pontypool just to name a few – is the best of the year. However, I absolutely agree that the performances in Inglourious Basterds are terrific. Other than that, I was so surprised to see that Christopher Waltz has so much ability to conceal his character's true cruelty under a deceptive veil of civilized behaviours in the conversation scenes.

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    I did not think much of The Hurt Locker and definitely not for one of the best films of the year.
    After his performance in Inglourious Basterds, Christopher Waltz is going to have himself a bright Hollywood future. His conversation scenes were some of the best, if not the best, in the film.

  • http://getafilm.blogspot.com/ Daniel

    Great review – I especially like your description of the opening scene, which was quite tense. I also loved the tavern/basement scene.

    I have to disagree that the last shootout was in any way shocking, as well as it was captured. As soon as that music started playing you knew what was going to happen. But to the extent that I thought that person was not going to die in that room earlier in the scene, I guess it was a little surprising.

    I've been back and forth with this movie for the last week, partly hating it and partly loving it. I think it comes down to the fact that it's terrific filmmaking, but just too smug for my taste. Like I have respect for QT as a filmmaker, but as a person I feel like he would just be a total slimeball in conversation.

    Lastly, I'm afraid that Waltz will not see his star rise after this, though at this point he should win Best Actor hands-down (so far). Something about him, I just don't think he's going to be marketable as a big star. He might get some looks in some ensemble pieces but I think this is the beginning and end of this stardom…

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    Thanks Daniel.

    I liked the basement tavern scene as well.

    The last shootout was shocking in that Tarantino did not sympathize with his character and preserve her with a mom and pop, happy hollywood bow around her.

    I did not see the smugness you saw but then I was not looking too hard. You should have heard Tarantino's recent interview with Stern. Funny.

    It might be because of the character Waltz is playing that you think his star will not rise. I understand that. From a Hollywood perspective though, since he is so unknown and new, they will be able to get him cheap. Why wouldn't you put a great actor in your film who is very affordable? I think you are mistaken Daniel. Hollywood looks at economics and a return on their investment. The Best Actor nod is a sure thing for The Golden Globes. Imagine if Tarantino's film wins for Best Actor at the Oscars.

  • http://getafilm.blogspot.com/ Daniel

    **SPOILER**About Shoshana, I guess I never expected a happy ending for her because that's just not QT's style. As you say, he's never one to fall in love with his characters. So I was a little surprised that anybody was left alive at the end of the movie; her demise could have been foreseen. Well maybe not, I don't know.**END**

    Good point about getting him to do good work for little money. Didn't really consider that. Also impressive that he is so great with languages. Truth be told he's got to be the best on-screen character in 2009, and one of the best in any QT movie.

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    The Bride had a happy ending. She killed Bill, lived, and got BB.

    Tarantino wrote Landa's character as a language genius so when he found out that Waltz spoke 4, that was one of the deciding factors in his casting.

  • http://www.alexanderevent.com Miami Catering

    Inglorious Basterds makes no apologies, asks for no forgiveness, it's a no holds barred assault on the senses. Tarantino doesn't care if he offends, if he steps all over stereotypes and clichés, this is film making at it purest. It's great to see a film maker whose work clearly isn't interfeared with by the powers that be.

    Tarantino is a master of effortlessly cranking up immense tension and suddenly mixing it with laugh out loud moments; you're not sure if you should be looking away in disgust or rolling around laughing, either way it's a roller coaster and one not to be missed!

    It's not for everyone and I'm unsure how Germans will take the film, certainly if you're not a fan of Tarantino's style, this may be a little hard to swallow, but never-the-less, it is a film which simply has to be seen. No self respecting film fan should miss this. And the performance of Christoph Waltz… Oscar don't you dare ignore him!!

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    Few film makers can make films without studio interference of any kind. Woody Allen is another director that enjoys that privilege.

    Inglourious Basterds is definitely a rollercoaster ride. When Landa starts laughing when the actress says she hurt her foot mountain climbing was hilarious but tense because Aldo and the rest were hiding behind that asinine lie.

    When Tarantino was on Stern, he said the Germans were eager to assist with the production.

    If Waltz wins the Golden Globe, which he probably will, an Oscar nod is locked.

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book

    Few film makers can make films without studio interference of any kind. Woody Allen is another director that enjoys that privilege.

    Inglourious Basterds is definitely a rollercoaster ride. When Landa starts laughing when the actress says she hurt her foot mountain climbing was hilarious but tense because Aldo and the rest were hiding behind that asinine lie.

    When Tarantino was on Stern, he said the Germans were eager to assist with the production.

    If Waltz wins the Golden Globe, which he probably will, an Oscar nod is locked.

  • http://www.filmdocumentary.org/ Film Documentary

    What an unusual story! I would personally describe this as “dark humor” and I happen to like dark humor. I could throw in a few little criticisms but in the end my recommendation would be “A MUST FILM” THIS (if you like dark comedy). But wait till the kids go to bed.

  • http://www.marblepolishing.net/marble-polishing-miami.html marble polishing miami

    Perrier is instantly trepidacious around Landa because of the mystique and rumors that propagate the French hillsides about him.