Friday, April 2, 2010

Inglorious Basterds: A Review


The Dirty Menschen...

Quentin Tarantino has a core group of followers. I haven't been one of them. I realize I'm in the minority in that aspect. A lot of guys are suppose to love his films, but I've always felt that he only makes versions of films he liked as a kid: 1970s schlock films. It's as if the seventies never ended for him. Inglourious Basterds is his version of a fantasy revenge film. It wasn't by any means bad, and had some wonderful aspects to it. However, I don't think it was worth all the wait.

We begin in Vichy France with a Sergio-Leone type score. There, Colonel Hans Landa, the Jew Hunter (Christoph Waltz) interrogates a dairy farmer. With no threats, no hysterics, he casually and coldly puts the squeeze on the farmer to reveal whether or not he is hiding the Dreyfusses, a Jewish family that is unaccounted for. The farmer cracks and Landa gets his soldiers to kill the Dreyfusses in their hiding place except for Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) who manages to escape. Three years later, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), a Jewish officer from Tennessee (and the outrageously broad accent to prove it), recruits a group of Jewish soldiers who have one mission according to Raine: "killin' Nat-sees". This group, The Basterds, strike terror in the hearts of German officers. You have The Jew Bear Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) and Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schwieger) who is recruited by the Basterds after being captured by the Nazis. They are an irritant to Hitler, who is determined to exterminate them all.

By this time, Shosanna is hiding in plain sight in Paris, running a theater where she attracts the amorous attention of Private Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), who has had a film based on his exploits for the German army made into a propaganda film by Joseph Goebbels himself. Because of his interests in her, Zoller convinces Goebbels to premiere the film, Nation's Pride, at her theater. This gives Shosanna the opportunity to kill the German High Command including Hitler, Goebbels, and Martin Bormann among others. Into this mix we have another plot to kill these people at the same theater by British intelligence with the help of the Basterds and a Marlene Dietrich-type double agent, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). As it turns out, the British fail to get far in the plan and Raine & Donowitz, pretending to be Italians escorting a wounded Bridget to the premiere, attempt to complete this mission. Colonel Landa, who seems to be a step ahead of everyone, realizes what's going on in regards to the Basterds and captures them. However, he works out a sweet deal for himself in exchange for letting them get away with it. Unbeknownst to any of them, Shosanna manages to carry out her plan to burn down the theater with everyone in it even after she and Zoller kill each other in a gunfight.


Inglorious Basterds is not a film to take seriously, but that is a compliment. That is because it is not really grounded in reality but in wild fantasy. We know this because of the names of the characters. Am I the only one who thinks B-movie star Aldo Ray is the inspiration for Pitt's character's name? You also have the music: you have your spaghetti-Western type score and even a snippet from The Battle of Algiers when Stiglitz (another name pinched from a real person) is rescued by the Basterds. As just a ride into the glories of gore that Tarantino revels in, Inglourious Basterds fulfills its blood quota.
There were things I had problems with throughout the film. Yes, I hated Pitt's accent. It just strikes me as unbelievable that someone with such a thick, thick, Super-Thick quasi-hillbilly/Southern drawl could successfully infiltrate the Nation's Pride premiere. A couple of times there was narration to attempt to clear up or add details to certain scenes, and this was a little off-putting for me, as were the titles giving Stiglitz's name in a seventies-style lettering (as I've long argued, Tarantino has never gotten past the films of the seventies when it comes to making his own).

I suppose the sheer outrageousness of Pitt's accent was meant to highlight the absurdity of it all.  I 'get it', but it doesn't mean I 'buy it'.

We were even treated to Tarantino's infamous (alleged) foot fetish when Lando confronts Bridget--it's as if he had us endure the gore of seeing men literally blow their balls off in order to fulfill his unique sexual turn-ons.

Curiously, I don't think Goebbels would have made a film like Nation's Pride (which made me wonder if it was inspired by Audie Murphy's war exploits in To Hell And Back where he, like Zoller, played himself). Goebbels was more fond of providing escapism to the Germans than rousing war films, but I guess this is a minor argument. I also wondered while watching Inglourious Basterds why Heinrich Himmler did not attend the premiere. If all this had really happened, the war would have gone on because Himmler would have quietly taken power.

I suppose there too, I'm being far too 'logical' when something like Inglourious Basterds isn't meant to be logical or historic.  I'm sorry: my mind is trained a certain way.

All of the above ran the risk of making the horror of the Holocaust and the war in general seem all too comedic, as if the terrors and brutality were ultimately not suppose to be taken seriously. We also have to wonder just exactly HOW much of the Holocaust was known before the liberation of the camps. Certainly, the Nazi anti-Semitism was common knowledge, as were the camps, but I'm not too sure the systematic murder of the Jews was as well known as it would be.


There were nice and intelligent touches in the film. At the Nation's Pride premiere, we see Emil Jannings, the first Best Actor Oscar winner who later returned to his native Germany and made films under the Nazi regime. Also, I congratulate Tarantino for making a film where subtitles were used widely and wisely. It sets a realistic tone when people speak German or French or English when they actually need to. So often today, people are frightened by subtitles, but the including of them for long periods of time was a highly intelligent move.

The acting for my part was uneven because it wasn't cohesive. Some took the project in a serious tone (Kruger, Laurent) and some saw it as a comedy (Pitt, Roth). None, however, can match Christoph Waltz's Colonel Landa. While the rest of the cast may have been uneven throughout the film, Waltz was absolutely brilliant in his performance. He was menacing in FOUR languages, and only when he spoke English did he betray even the slightest hint of an accent. He was charming and terrifying, cold and clever. It was the best performance in the film and worth the price of admission alone.

In the end, Inglourious Basterds was this film from what I understood was long awaited. It wasn't bad (especially with Waltz's performance), but by no means will this replace Citizen Kane as the Greatest Film Ever Made. My only hope is that future generations don't believe Adolf Hitler was mowed down in a hail of bullets in a Paris theater by an American Jewish soldier. 

It's a Quentin Tarantino film, the kind he likes.  I won't fault him for that, but not being of his generation or mindset, I can't share great enthusiasm for Inglourious Basterds either.

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