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Overall Rating
4.01

Awesome56.96%
Worth A Look: 16.46%
Just Average: 8.86%
Pretty Crappy: 6.33%
Sucks: 11.39%

4 reviews, 55 user ratings


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Inglourious Basterds
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by Erik Childress

"Extra Vowels Don't Just Elongate The Title"
4 stars

If only I could lead things off the way Quentin Tarantino does in his new WWII thriller. Every one of his screenplays have started with some sort of extended monologue that either establishes the characters or leads us towards violence. Speeches about Madonna, Elvis or how to rob a coffee shop will never compare to the way Tarantino sets up Inglourious Basterds. The audacity to even trust the short attention span of audiences with a 20-minute conversation and resolution is one of the many reasons we praise him and are willing to wait while he takes his time in-between projects. He’s been talking up Basterds, shared in title alone (with a couple vowel changes) with a ‘70s Italian exploitation version of The Dirty Dozen, since the Pulp Fiction days. Was it worth the wait? You may think so after those first 20 minutes. After two and a half hours, it’s impossible to question the greatness within but hard to ignore what also makes it his most laboring and flawed feature to date.

Brad Pitt is Lt. Aldo Raine (a not-so-subtle tribute to actor Aldo Ray) who is gathering up a select squad of Jewish-American soldiers to enact a campaign of fear and murder against the Nazis. Their escapades include, but are not limited to, collecting their scalps as the Cowboys playing war become the Indians. Occasionally the Americans introduce our national pasttime into the proceedings with their resident Hank Greenberg known as “The Bear Jew.” His real name is Donny Donowitz (Hostel filmmaker Eli Roth) and he’s swinging away on behalf of all the unnamed Jews with a grudge against the Nazis. Those unnamed Jews also include the rest of the Basterds who are more or less background scenery despite having a couple of recognizable faces in B.J. Novak from The Office and Samm Levine from Freaks & Geeks.

Meanwhile in another theater – literally – Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) has a chance meeting with Nazi officer, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). He’s famous amongst his people (the German Sergeant York) for his escapades with a sniper rifle. Joseph Goebbels has even made a movie about him. Starring him. Fredrick takes a shine to the beautiful Shosanna and suggests to his director the potential of hosting the premiere at the movie theater she inherited. Once word leaks to resistance forces, everybody from the British to the Basterds wants a piece of this event, primarily because all the Nazi leaders – including some guy named Hitler – are all scheduled to be in one place at the same time. Little do they know though that Shosanna has her own motivations for she was a key witness to the film’s opening scene and has her own grudge against the monikered “Jew Hunter” Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz).

Most films would jump at the chance to fully flesh out the Basterds as a colorful collection of action heroes inflicting nasty revenge against one of the greatest enemies the world has ever seen. Not Tarantino, even if he takes a brief shine to one or two of them. Audiences may be shocked to realize that after the Pitt-centric trailers that focus almost exclusively on his big ra-ra speech to the troops, the headliner may not clock in at even an hour’s worth of screen time in the 153-minute flick. This is certainly not the standard action picture where we await the various set pieces where our heroes get picked off one-by-one during their mission. Aside from Pitt’s Lieutenant and Roth’s relishing killer, the only other Basterd who gets any kind of worthy introduction is the traitorous Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) whom the crew busts out after hearing of his exploits against the Gestapo. Stiglitz is given such a anti-inglorious overture (complete with narration from Samuel L. Jackson) that it’s a wonder how little is actually done with him. Most of the Nazi killing aside from an early Basterds slaughter and the climax are done in brief flashback interludes so Stiglitz’s contribution to the film is the figurative time bomb that gets introduced in the first act and never goes off in the last.

The one definitive constant of the film entire though is the cumulative presence of Hans Landa and the actor portraying him. Racking up credits for over 30 years, this is the first time I’ve have ever seen Christoph Waltz. And the impression that he makes in every scene he’s in will make this performance a note of historical record. For the first time, lists made about filmdom’s great screen villains will not have to worry about criticism for having short memories if they are so enraptured to put Hans Landa on their list. As the antagonist of that Leone-esque prologue (appropriately chaptered “Once Upon a Time in Occupied France”), Landa instantly intimidates just with his uniform but slowly unveils the dark intuition that seems to drive his every conversation. And I mean, EVERY conversation. Not a scene with his entrance is a good thing for the person sitting across him at the table and this winds up being one of the film’s greatest strengths and most conspicuous insights into its repetition.

Landa has four of these such confrontations. The first is brilliant. The second is a great reprise. The third displays a shocking in-your-face brutality that makes the opener almost merciful by comparison. His final self-started sparring match though reveals a greater betrayal than the one he’s committing himself. Without revealing too much, Landa’s attempt at compromise between him and his white whale is a complete miscalculation of who we’ve come to fear for the first two hours. Not only are his motivations out of left field considering he seems to really relish these moments where he catches his prey with their pants down, but as far as we believe in his arrogance there’s absolutely no way we are to believe that he’s stupid enough to trust his combatant.

Don’t get too accustomed to seeing these scenes with Landa though. Just because he’s only in four of them, that doesn’t mean that other members of the cast don’t get to join in on the protracted dialogue scenes. After the first couple chapters establishing the players in this little revenge fantasy, Basterds’ second act begins to get seriously bogged down in a repetition that would make David Mamet antsy. You would lose count if you began holding up fingers to indicate how many scenes are designed to tell everyone that Hitler and his cronies are going to be at that theater. Scenes that are about that and nothing more, only occasionally lingering around longer to provide further exposition we already heard in the previous one. As Tarantino has already established the game of slow-building suspense (and established it quite well) its little surprise as to how any scene is going to end.

This is especially true in a basement meeting where several Basterds and British officer Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) plan to lay the groundwork for the theater mission with actress-turned-spy, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). The scene introduces us to more German soldiers, takes us through rounds of a drinking game, brings in a smarter German officer, more games, an opportunity for Tarantino to add some more Negro jokes (a second time in the film) and so on and so on. This is Tarantino’s Ben Gardner moment. Gardner, you may recall, was a fisherman in Jaws. When Spielberg initially tested the film, the big money shot was the chum scene when the shark comes out of the water at Roy Scheider. So proud of that moment, Spielberg wanted one more big scare so he filmed the moment where Richard Dreyfuss discovers the head of Ben Gardner coming out of a hole in his boat. To his surprise, this scene became the big shock moment and the chum scene got half the response it once did. This “La Louisiana” scene seemingly goes on forever. The Mexican/German/Jewish standoff that’s developing doesn’t have quite the punch of the three similar scenes we’ve already sat through. No matter how great and decisive the punchline is, we’re left wallowing not on the edge of our seat but in a desire for Tarantino to just get to it already.

It’s sad that these moments, which have become Tarantino staples, would be such an Achilles Heel, especially with two stars of Troy going face-to-face. Those quick to complain about all the talk-talk-talk in his Grindhouse segment, Death Proof, were not so quick to acknowledge that all the girl talk was leading somewhere, establishing Zoe Bell’s nine lives or justifying how stupid it is to ride the hood of a speeding car. All the second act conversations keep the film firmly planted at a stand still. Everything that could be said in three sentences is said in thirty. Sometimes it works as in precisely how much Italian the chosen Basterds know and sometimes it doesn’t as in the extension of the already lengthy basement sequence where Pitt interrogates Kruger over knowledge that we already have. Kruger painfully overplays her toughness in this scene in a manner that makes Laurent’s carefully brimming avenger all the more tremendous. Pitt, on the other hand, overplays his southern drawl and impudence with just the right measure, lending more credence that his skills as a comic actor are immeasurably underappreciated. Quite the opposite is true though of Mike Myers who shows up for one scene as a British superior telling Hicox about Hitler and the theater. Anyone not clear that Hitler will be there? As this scene occurs before the basement, it’s the first real chink in Basterds’ armor, distracting us with another of Myers’ limited variations on smirking accents. His performance is so mannered and overtly familiar that it wouldn’t be out of the realm to watch him raise a pinky to his lips. In turn, Tarantino could have benefitted his filmmaker friend, Roth, by turning his character into a mute. Effectively menacing by anti-hero standards when silent, but giving Quentin’s skewered work as an actor a run for its money anytime he opens his mouth.

Doth protest too much possibly in the wake of so much that’s great about Inglourious Basterds. Often very funny and stinging with its flashes of graphic violence, you can’t help applaud Tarantino for taking his idea of a WWII film to a natural fictional level. Everything is made up anyway, so you may as well take it to the ending you want to see, a climax filled with apocalyptic carnage (fulfulling Tarantino’s continued DePalma fetish – even if he doesn’t subscribe to the same suspense tactics) and a use of David Bowie’s theme for Cat People that may be the most inspired song cue he’s ever dreamt up. Inglourious Basterds reminds us of the Saving Private Ryan creedo in never taking mercy on your enemy. It will come back to haunt you. Basterds, much like his Kill Bill saga, suffers the curse of wanting to be two different films. Vol. 1 had the lion’s share of the martial arts spectacular while Vol. 2 displayed Tarantino’s necessity to prove he’s more than just a genre copyist and how his films through his gift of gab are something more than the sum of its fractured parts. If you played Kill Bill chronologically it would play a lot like Inglourious Basterds. A long talk leading up to an execution, a beautiful blonde gathering one’s strengths against a select army, enacting bloody revenge and ultimately confronting the big dog himself. That’s all well and good as I liked Kill Bill Vol. 2. I just liked Vol. 1 more.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18344&reviewer=198
originally posted: 08/21/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2009 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell not tarantinos best sorry 2 say 2 stars
5/30/15 Martel732 Vainglorious, White Guilt Tarantino, Racist Jew Eli Roth 1 stars
1/18/12 Marc DC Foriegn Language was never this fun! Col. Hans Landa stills the show!!! 5 stars
1/28/11 Derek Special mention to August Diehl. His acting was phenomenal in the famous bar scene. 5 stars
6/10/10 Flathead King This movie makes one wonder who are the good guys? 1 stars
6/09/10 Serge Loved it, courageous, wild, my favorite Tarantino! 5 stars
4/28/10 TreeTiger What a superficial piece of self-indulgent Tarrantino feces! 1 stars
4/10/10 matt the slow realization that everyone in the room is about to die. 5 stars
3/28/10 Charles Tatum Immensely watchable and suspenseful 5 stars
3/14/10 Phil M. Aficiando Intriguing and imaginative; moody; what else from QT? Bravo Waltz. A+ production values. 4 stars
3/01/10 Founder An (in)glorious piece of macabre craftsmanship, and Tarantino's best since Pulp Fiction 5 stars
2/26/10 Captain Ted When no-ones watching, I sometimes dress up like Big Bird 1 stars
2/23/10 Peter North good. not great, but good. 3 stars
1/29/10 ron tarantino classic at its best. 5 stars
1/18/10 art PURE COMIC BOOK stuff! 1 stars
1/12/10 Quirinius Snobb Don't take this movie seriously. If you do, you won''t like it. 3 stars
1/11/10 dane A MASTERPIECE 5 stars
1/07/10 Monday Morning Terrific story and amazing performances - especially by Christoph Waltz. Mesmerizing. 5 stars
1/02/10 ACTION MJOVIE FAN TARANTINO.S DIRTY DOZEN=NOT AS GOOD AS KILL BILL BUT ALTHOUG A BIT SLOW=EXCITING AT TIMES 3 stars
12/15/09 Pitt After making nothing but shit this decade, Tarantino finally gets it right 4 stars
12/13/09 mwilde boring, stupid, shallow 1 stars
12/09/09 Jeff Wilder Easily Tarantino's best film since Jackie Brown. 5 stars
12/07/09 matt oh my god... what a movie. eli roth mows down... oh just watch it. absolutely amazing 5 stars
11/22/09 SirGent Quintessential Quentin! A sprawling,nearly perfect film & one of the years best. 5 stars
10/12/09 kris overrated and disappointing 3 stars
9/25/09 Akemi Gardiner One of Tarantino's best films yet. 5 stars
9/23/09 damalc not really sure what to say, but i liked it 4 stars
9/21/09 Roy Smith In my top 5 for 2009. Beautiful dialogue, great action. 5 stars
9/18/09 Phineas Anti-White, Vainglourious Racist Jew Basterds, Vainglourious Basterd Tarantino. 1 stars
9/13/09 Pj I wanted to applaud at the end. Wonderful experience! 5 stars
9/10/09 MP Bartley Tarantino rediscovers how to make brilliant films again. 5 stars
9/08/09 Brian Mckay Great actors + solid writing + excessive length + obnoxious self-indulgence= TARANTINO! 3 stars
9/05/09 O Wellings History-twisting revenge flick/film homage mingles gratuitous cruelty, knee-shaking tension 5 stars
9/03/09 Freya Excellent show. Must go see it again and will definitely buy the DVD. 5 stars
9/02/09 maverick yeti how do i always get suckered into tarantino? 2 stars
9/02/09 2Cruzy Great dialogs & Action... Ran a little long, but worth the $$ and effort to see this flick. 5 stars
9/02/09 PAUL SHORTT VIOLENT, HOLLOW AND APPALLINGLY INSENSITIVE 2 stars
9/01/09 mr.mike The critic called it "long and strange". He said a mouthful. 4 stars
8/31/09 Aiax dramatically unspectacular. endless dialogue cannot conceal the lack of depth and motive. 1 stars
8/31/09 Drew Great movie 5 stars
8/30/09 BoyInTheDesignerBubble A telented director makes an OK movie. 3 stars
8/30/09 Luisa Ran a little too long, but the end was worth waiting for 4 stars
8/27/09 The Great Lee Card slams your face into a bat with blood all the f over it. definitely engaging. 5 stars
8/26/09 R. G. Ranade Audacious, exhilarating, challenging - the finest movie Quentin's made since Pulp Fiction. 5 stars
8/26/09 geojohnstone Quentin needs a history lesson-garbage 2 stars
8/25/09 Rosa Kleb Pure brilliance 5 stars
8/25/09 mark Boring? Lol. This movie is riveting, the dialogs are the best in the last 10 yrs. 5 stars
8/25/09 SylvesterFox007 "Overrated" and "boring as hell" were the words that kept coming to mind during the movie. 1 stars
8/25/09 scotty I actually loved this more than Pulp Fiction. 5 stars
8/24/09 KingNeutron Some great directorial moments and nail-biting conversations 4 stars
8/23/09 Bubbus The only good scenes are ripoffs of Sergio Leone's movies. 2 stars
8/23/09 R.W. Welch Imaginative. Maybe a little too much so. Near classic oily villain. 4 stars
8/23/09 Quigley Amazingly entertaining; one of the years best films. Quentin is back with a vengeance! 5 stars
8/23/09 Joe Smaltz Well it's no Pulp Fiction, but I didn't fall asleep. Christoph Waltz stole the show! ! 3 stars
8/22/09 Darkstar Best Tarantino movie since Pulp Fiction, and my new favorite movie of 2009. Awesome!!!!!!!! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  21-Aug-2009 (R)

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Australia
  21-Aug-2009




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