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INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) **** movie review by COOP

Posted on August 25th, 2009
Posted on August 25th, 2009


Quentin Tarantino is a bona fide oddity in the modern film industry.  The bulletproof director stays independent and non-union but he still manages to find the budget to fulfill his every whim.  He takes his sweet time getting there, but what he creates often gains a massive amount critical/public scrutiny and acclaim.  A long-gestating vanity project for Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds” achieves some cinematic feats that rank it in the highest categories of cinema.  For Tarantino fans, this is an admirable achievement.  Unfortunately for action fans, the film consists mostly of people sitting around, talking. 

Using yet another episodic Tarantino format, the film tells multiple stories that converge in the finale.  The central characters, “The Basterds,” are Jewish-American soldiers dropped into France right before D-Day to wage a guerilla war on Nazis.  Lead by Aldo “The Apache” Raines (Brad Pitt), the soldiers only appear in about half of the movie.  Another segment of the film tells the story of Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent), a lone Jewish survivor of the slaughter of her family who gets a unique opportunity for revenge.  Yet another follows Nazi “Jew Hunter” Hans Landa as he performs his despicable duty with the glee and skill of a German Sherlock Holmes.  Two more storylines involve a British attempt to obtain information from an unlikely spy and Joseph Goebbles’ aspirations to become the David O’Selznick of the Third Reich.  All stories come to a head in a rousing finish that you’ll neither predict nor expect.

According to Tarantino, he originally intended creating a “men on a mission” adventure with this storyline.  Instead, he constructed something entirely different…  a slow, methodical tale consisting of long, tense conversations that erupt into brief, ultra-violent climaxes at the end of each chapter.  During these conversations, the aggressor plays a game of wits with the subject(s), trying to extract information.  The subject never lets on what he or she knows until they lose the upper hand and the aggressor, while suspicious, never pounces until they are 100% sure they have found an adversary. 

I suspect the adventure story evolved into this unique format when Tarantino decided to throw caution to the wind in his rewrites.  This naturally happens in the screenwriting process, but it appears Tarantino threw out his original outline in the processes as well.  A loss for action/adventure fans, but a gain for those who appreciate fine acting.

Nearly all of the performances are outstanding, but three in particular stand out so greatly, I wanted more of them.  Pitt for instance is a scream as the folksy, colorful leader of the “Basterds.”  He plays his part entirely for comedic effect and every line that comes out of his mouth had the audience howling with laughter.  I loved all his moments on screen and I felt it was a pity that the film didn’t revolve around him like I expected. 

The real revelation is the performance of Christoph Waltz.  I predict he will receive an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his villainous turn as Hans Landa.  He plays the character as warm and friendly, but you know he’s only toying with his subject “Columbo”-style while he figures out their secret.  He completely disarms his adversary with a goofy charm and curious eccentricities.  People are already starting to compare him to Hannibal Lecter in terms of memorable villainy.  He already has my early vote. 

Another “Basterd” I didn’t get enough of was Hugo Stiglitz played by the intimidating Til Schweiger.  With a name inspired by the famous Mexican B-movie actor of the 1970’s (whom Tarantino is obviously an admirer of), Hugo gets a great back story that never fully receives its due development.  As a Nazi soldier turned serial killer who got a kick out of murdering his commanding officers, he gets nabbed and sits in a cell awaiting execution. The Basterds bust Stiglitz out of jail and offer him a chance to continue his murder spree by their side.  We only get a few brief moments of his potential as a scary psycho killer, but not near enough.

And surprisingly, “not enough” is my final verdict for this film.  It’s obvious that Tarantino set so much up in the story that he didn’t have time to explore all the stories he intended – a victim of his own excesses.  A lukewarm response at the Cannes Film Festival forced him to make cuts for a theatrical release.  In Tarantino’s case, this can be both good or bad depending whether he was being long-winded or not; but nevertheless, I wanted a bit more time with The Basterds and less with the other, less-interesting storylines (besides Landa’s).  That in no way should detract from Tarantino’s terrific cinematic achievement.  “Basterds” is a slow, artsy, original film that deserves acclaim.  But in the end, I really wanted my “men on a mission” action movie. 

P.S.  Most of the characters in the film speak either German or French, so most of the film is subtitled.  Get ready for a lot of reading. 

4 out of 5 stars

Fun international trailer below…

-C

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