Inglourious Basterds ~ take 1
Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a war of attrition, wearing down its audience with glimpses of brilliance and stretches of smug mediocrity
reviewed by Diana Beechener
A group of violent GIs cuts a bloody swath through Nazi Germany in an epic World War II comedic action film. It’s not The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, Five Graves to Cairo or Inglorious Bastards (1978) — but it might as well be. Quentin Tarantino begs, steals and borrows from classic and cult World War II films — and liberally references his beloved spaghetti westerns — to create his latest overlong opus Inglourious Basterds.
Tarantino spins a tale of Jew hunters, Nazi hunters, espionage and revisionist history that spirals into a dizzying whirlpool of overly witty dialog and period pop culture references.
In a scene taken almost shot for shot from The Dirty Dozen, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt: Seven) outlines the mission (and one of the plots) for his inglorious team: Each man owes him exactly 100 Nazi scalps before the war is over. It’s a simple assignment, and when Tarantino follows it, the film blasts by with Howitzer-like power.
Another vein collaged into the epic is the story of Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), a French Jew who narrowly escapes sadistic Col. Hans ‘The Jew Hunter’ Landa (Christoph Waltz), who kills the rest of her family.
That’s how you know it’s a Tarantino film — everybody has a snappy nickname, a bloody character quirk or a 1970s-style rock star introduction, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.
But there are problems with the Basterds. The first being the Raine’s dirty dozen crew. Pitt, who speaks with a southern accent fused from Forest Gump and George W. Bush, spouts Tarantino’s signature dialog, but his comedic delivery hinges on his mustache more than his range. Torture-porn king Eli Roth (Hostel) as Donny ‘the Bear Jew’ Donowitz, takes a baseball bat to the skull of a captured Nazi, but he can’t manage to change his expression once in a nearly three-hour film. The rest of the Basterds are treated as such, barely uttering five lines among them throughout the film.
As far as acting, the Germans easily win the war. Christoph Waltz charms, chills and connives as the German’s smartest Jew Hunter. Daniel Bruhl elicits unexpected sympathy as a Nazi version of Sergeant York, uncomfortable with his hero status and the brutality of war. Diane Kruger dazzles as mysterious movie star who may be playing both sides. Even German members of the Basterds — Til Schweiger and Gedeon Burkhard —steal their scenes from the other allied forces.
Inglourious Basterds isn’t a complete loss. Tarantino still knows how to stage a brilliant action sequence, as demonstrated by a thrilling and hilarious Mexican standoff in a basement bar. Film fanatics will get a kick out of playing Name That Tune with the soundtrack — Tarantino samples heavily from Ennio Morricone and classic war films.
Overall, Inglourious Basterds is a war of attrition, wearing down its audience with glimpses of brilliance and stretches of smug mediocrity.
Fair war film • R • 153 mins.
© The Weinstein Company and Universal Pictures
Eli Roth and Brad Pitt in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
Inglourious Basterds ~ take 2
Subterfuge, drama, insanity, and comedy whirl around each other as this movie thrusts onward.
reviewed by Mark Burns
The eponymous Basterds are a crack squad of Nazi-squooshing Jewish Americans led by moonshine maverick Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). They wage an underground war of terror against Nazis in occupied France. But their wilding finds new focus when an Allied plot is hatched to wipe out the Nazi leadership in one swipe. Meanwhile, escaped French Jew Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) has become a German war hero’s object of affection and uses the situation to plot similar revenge on the same targets. Stalking the avengers, however, is calculating inquisitor Col. Hans Landa (Cristoph Waltz), whose sinister canniness threatens to unravel all.
The film is a thump to the head. Director Quentin Tarantino, auteur of such delicate pieces as Kill Bill and Death Proof, orchestrates a bit of the old ultra-violence: scalping, machine gunning and forehead etching as expressions of Jewish rage. The brutality shocks reliably and often appalls; scenes of scalping will make you cringe. Violence is more realistic than stylized and carries more impact.
However violence does not consume all. Character figures huge. Pitt thrives in the skin of Raine, darkly comic in his single-minded pursuit of Nazi scalps. German actor Waltz portrays a svelte, silver-tongued villain as Landa, stalking his targets with cold and casual calculation. French actress Laurent is a sympathetic and believable Shosanna through persecution, fear and wrath.
Tarantino’s trademark loquaciousness gives players room to breathe. Conversational confrontation tightens the thumbscrews of suspense while other well-timed exposition turns in comic relief and deep character development.
While the tale is over the top, there is balance in the mayhem. Subterfuge, drama, insanity, and comedy whirl around each other as the movie thrusts onward. A surprisingly ample story — neatly pieced into chapters as it explores converging arcs centered on Shosanna and the Basterds —breaks up the violence.
Compared to Landa and Shosanna, the Basterds are two-dimensional creatures. They are the abstract of rage; she is the study. Their main purpose seems to shatter the movie’s quiet and step in swinging with dark-dark comic retribution, adding swagger to the caper. The layering of these planes actually works with the tone of this violent tragi-comic rollick.
The deepest criticism is the severity of violence. Graphic scalping? Come on. I’m still checking to make sure I have mine. But then, that’s Tarantino. His devotees will surely adore this. Others — maybe not so much.
Good war film • R • 153 mins.