Short Version: Don’t go into Inglourious Basterds expecting a serious WWII film and you’ll probably end up having fun with it.
Screen Rant reviews Inglourious Basterds
I am not a Quentin Tarantino disciple (just thought I’d get that out of the way).
Now don’t jump to conclusions – I like most of Tarantino’s films, I’m just not a dyed in the wool Tarantino junkie. I like most of his movies but I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I absolutely despised most of Death Proof.
Despite a directing history going back to 1987, Inglourious Basterds is only the seventh movie he’s directed. If there’s one thing you can say about him it’s that he’s got a sense of style when it comes to his films, and this one is no exception.
Inglorious Basterds (and unless I missed it, it’s never explained why it’s not just spelled Inglorious Bastards) is the story of a small team of Jewish-American soldiers assembled by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) in order to strike fear into the soldiers of the Third Reich by brutally killing (“we don’t take prisoners”) and scalping Nazis. Eventually they cross paths with Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), a young French-Jewish woman whose family was murdered when she was younger and now runs a movie theater in Paris.
The film is broken up into chapters, beginning with: “Chapter One – Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France.” It’s a cool retro way to segment the film into its different sections. Also retro was the music during the opening credits, which seemed to come right out of a 1960s Sergio Leone spaghetti western – it put a grin on my face and was a good way to get the audience in the right mood for the film.
Now I like fast-moving scenes as much as the next guy, but this first chapter opens in 1941 on a rural farm in a scene that is (and I hesitate to use this word) deliciously slow. A farmer spies a carload of Nazis a mile away coming towards the farm. He has four daughters, is concerned about them and has them head inside their small home. Here is where we first meet Col. Hans Landa (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz) – a charming on the outside, Machiavellian on the inside Nazi officer with the nickname of “Jew Hunter.” The tension in this scene builds and builds and is excruciatingly good. Tarantino is known for the dialog in his films and uses it to great effect here.
It is in Chapter Two that we meet the “Basterds,” a line up of what looks like mainly a bunch of pencil-necked Jewish guys, along with a crazy-eyed Eli Roth playing Sgt. Donny “Bear Jew” Donowitz – a soldier with a predilection for bashing Nazi brains in with a baseball bat. We see Brad Pitt looking like he’s doing his best facial impression of Marlon Brando as The Godfather, but with a seriously Southern accent. He tells the men (and the audience) the purpose of their mission, which is to kill Nazis in the most brutal ways possible in order to strike fear into them and have it spread throughout their ranks.
We get to see them in action, and their shall we say “no nonsense” approach is immediately evident in their interrogation of a German officer and then an enlisted man.
Advertising and trailers aside, the real story here is about Shosanna. She is beautiful and a hero of the Reich has become enamored with her. Of course considering her family was murdered by Nazis she is not swayed by his charm at all. Things being what they are she is dragged into being forced to show a Nazi propaganda film at her theater and she devises a plan to take full advantage of that.
Eventually her plans dovetail (not smoothly) with that of the Basterds, along with a plan by British officers to do some serious damage to the Nazis as well. Hint: This is an alternate universe version of World War II.
Tarantino has come up with a decent combination of a throwback to World War II movies from 40+ years ago mixed with more graphic (how about swastikas being carved into foreheads?) violence, his signature dialog and great use of music. I mentioned the tension in the opening chapter, but there are a lot of tense scenes throughout the movie – however beyond the opening scene (which while long and drawn out, worked well), some scenes later in the film do suffer from the typical Tarantino “over-dialoged” style and go on too long. Mixed in between the drama and violence were moments of humor that worked very well and didn’t suck you out of the movie.
On the other hand, don’t go in expecting a balls-out action movie, because this isn’t it. While there are action set pieces in the film, it’s mostly about the dialog. There are a lot of characters in the film, some of which seem like they could have been cut without doing the film much harm. And for Brad Pitt fans – know that while he has quite a few scenes in the film, he’s not in it as much as you might hope.
Except for Eli Roth (who really seemed out of place), performances throughout the film were very well done (again, Christoph Waltz is my absolute favorite). Laurent was mesmerizing in her performance in addition to being easy on the eyes. I got a kick out of Brad Pitt, but I couldn’t get the vision of Brando with cotton in his cheeks out of my head.
By the way, you’d better be a fan of subtitled movies because there is a LOT of that in this film – most scenes involving the French or Germans are spoken in their native language.
Overall this is a typical over the top Tarantino film, alternately intensely serious and then not taking itself seriously at all. Frankly, I would have preferred (and was expecting) more of The Dirty Dozen type of film, focused on the Basterds taking out tons of Nazis throughout the movie. If you’re a Tarantino fan you’ll most likely enjoy Inglourious Basterds – if you’re not and don’t have an issue with graphic violence mixed with close-to-campiness you may have a good time with it as well.