Inglourious Basterds (2009)

[Rating:4/5]               

Starring:  Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, B.J. Novak, Omar Doom, Martin Wuttke, Mike Myers, Rod Taylor, Samuel L. Jackson.
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Director:  Quentin Tarantino
Rating:  R
Running Time:  153 Mins.
Release Date:  August 21, 2009
DVD Release Date:  December 15, 2009
Box Office: $120,540,719
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A Band Apart, Zehnte Baabelsberg Film, Visiona Romatica, Universal Pictures and The Weinstein Company

Written By:  Quentin Tarantino

“…I’m aware of what tremendous feats human beings are capable of once they abandon dignity” – Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz)

An audacious, over-the-top, violent, thrill ride of a movie, Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” is another of Tarantino’s polarizing revenge films.  Revenge is the one interweaving thread between all 7 of Quentin’s films, and with “Inglourious Basterds” Tarantino chooses to reinvent the end of World War II.  Of course he does.  And of course he pulls it off with one of the most inventive and entertaining films of 2009.

Now to be fair, if Tarantino films leave you cold or you are simply not a fan, I cannot really find much in “Inglourious Basterds” that will change your mind.  There are moments of graphic violence and shocking images that catch you offguard and make you want to turn your head.  If you can stomach the moments that make you cringe, you cannot help but stay engaged with the dialogue, the intensity, the performances, and the carnival-like atmosphere of the film.

The Basterds are American Jewish soldiers who are working just beneath the Nazi radar in their effort to hunt and kill “Natzees” (as Brad Pitt’s character says in his ridiculous Southern accent).  Lead by Lt. Aldo Raine (Pitt), the Basterds have earned their distinction as a group of mercenary boogeymen who have staked such a reputation that the Third Reich are beginning to worry about their increased successes in achieving their goal.  Raine is unrelenting is his desire to acquire Nazi scalps and challenges his men to gain 100 each.

Concurrent to the Basterds recruiting for their next mission, we are introduced to Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a Jewish cinema owner, whose family were discovered years earlier hiding out with a French farmer and executed by the Nazis.  Several years removed from escaping that horror, Shosanna is courted by a Nazi soldier (Daniel Brühl) who believes that he shares in her love of the cinema.  When the soldier coordinates a meeting between Shosanna and the head of the German film industry, the one and only Joseph Goebbels, past memories come flooding back when she meets Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz).  Landa was the SS Officer who orchestrated the murder of her family and as the Nazis wish to host a film premiere of their latest propaganda film “Nation’s Pride” at her theater, Shosanna sees an opportunity to gain her revenge.

As the film unfolds chapter by chapter, we learn that the most famous German actress of the era, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) is a secret double spy working with the English government to bring down the Nazis.  We learn backstories of a handful of the Basterds in effective use of flashback and exposition, and not-so effective and rather silly moments of voiceover by Samuel L. Jackson.  Eventually, the Basterds are brought into the fold with von Hammersmark and upon learning that Hitler, Goebbels, and all the Nazi dignitaries will be present at the film premiere, the opportunity to end the war is a very real one for the Basterds, von Hammersmark, and Shosanna.  How the two competing plots co-exist is one of the more compelling elements to the elaborate fantasy Tarantino has created.

From its thrilling and pulse-pounding opening 20-minute dialogue between that French dairy farmer and the charismatic, frightening leader of the SS, Col. Hans Landa, Tarantino separates his work in 5 distinct chapters.  Each chapter packs its own distinct punch and could almost survive as five distinctive mini-films in their own right.  In the past, Tarantino has championed a non-linear writing style, leaping back and forth in time and leaving the viewer juggling the puzzle pieces to the picture laid before them.  Here, the film works better when the ensemble are allowed to live in their moments.  And what moments he gives them.

Equally as chilling with the opening sequence are the final moments in Chapter 4 where von Hammersmark and some new recruited Basterds meet in an underground pub to develop their plans.  A group of Nazi soldiers are in the same pub unexpectedly and the cat-and-mouse game between the Nazis and the Basterds is flawless in its execution.

“Inglourious Basterds” is not Tarantino’s best work.  The film runs a bit too long and Tarantino cannot help himself with some of his unnecessary directorial whims.  The violence comprised of scalpings, massive bloody shootouts, and various other fateful events will wear on some viewers.  Flaws acknowledged and all things considered, Quentin Tarantino is a button-pushing director whose obsession with film pours out of every frame in “Inglourious Basterds.”

In Tarantino’s world, he lives with playing in your emotions.  He revels in making you laugh when you normally would not and he masterfully, at times, makes you question whether your reaction to a situation is the right one.  Part of appreciating Tarantino is to think about how everyone who works with them ends up praising him as a director, writer, and creator.  In “Inglourious Basterds” it is easy to see why.  He believes in his actors and has perhaps, become the best at directing large ensembles.  Every significant character gets a moment and relishes it.

By all accounts — from the subject matter to the premise to the film’s sheer unpredictability from one moment to the next, this should not have worked.  However, just like any good roller coaster ride, you laugh, you scream, you close your eyes and peer through your hands.  “Inglourious Basterds” if you can stomach it, is the cinematic equivalent.

“Inglourious Basterds” received the following Academy Award Nominations for 2009:
  • Best Actor In A Supporting Role (Christoph Waltz)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Directing (Quentin Tarantino)
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Picture Of The Year
  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Sound Mixing
  • Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino)

Should I See It?

YES

While fantastical, it is intricately constructed and when combined with Tarantino’s trademark flair for dialogue, the film is a captivating watch.

The cast is clearly having a ball and their enthusiasm adds to the overall entertainment the film provides.

Christoph Waltz.  A mesmerizing, immersive performance, joining the likes of Heath Ledger and Javier Bardem as the best villains of the last decade.

It is an edgy, crazed, wild ride and like much of Quentin Tarantino’s films, unlike anything you have ever seen.

NO

If you fall on the side of disliking Tarantino’s approach, this will only further your dislike.  This really is vintage Tarantino.

While the film’s premise is completely over-the-top and rather ridiculously staged, we are talking about some sensitive material regarding World War II and Nazi Germany.  Some may find this trivializing a dark period in world history.

Strong violence occurs throughout the film and often unexpectedly.  Close ups of scalpings and other jarring images will undoubtedly turn off those with a weak stomach.

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