Film Review: Inglourious Basterds

Watching a Quentin Tarantino film is more than just watching any old film. It’s an experience delivered by a man who not only makes films for a living but also loves the medium. Each film that he does is a love letter to a particular era or genre of film. He’s an astounding scholar of the art form and each film he does is a testament to his knowledge. His films are also quite the acquired taste.

Tarantino sprinkles so much of himself into his artwork that it is sometimes hard to separate the art from the artist. As he himself has grown in popularity from the days of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction his films have become more and more self-indulgent, filled with obscure movie references and overlong scenes. His last film, Death Proof, left many fans scratching their heads wondering if Tarantino had possibly lost the magic that many thought he possessed.

Death Proof was a Tarantino film to be sure. It was littered with the trademarks of his film making, long scenes driven by dialog interspersed with crazy over the top action. But it also felt as if the train had come off the tracks somewhere along the lines. For many fans it was an awkward piece of film that spoiled an otherwise enjoyable Grindhouse experience.

Death Proof was not just a disappointment to a selection of long time Tarantino fans but also to his long time production partners the Weinstein’s brothers as Grindhouse flopped at the box office putting The Weinstein Company in a tough place financially. However Quentin Tarantino is not someone you turn your back on after one poor showing and Inglourious Basterds was born.

Inglourious Basterds is a World War II film shot as a spaghetti western. It is an odd combination to be sure but Tarantino has never been handcuffed by the genre he is working in, always managing to make it his own in some way. The title refers to a team of Jewish-American soldiers led by 1st Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who are tasked with hunting down Nazi soldiers in occupied France however the real story revolves around Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a French Jew who’s family was killed by Nazi’s when she was just a young teenager. Shosanna inherits a theater and the affections of a young Nazi private which thrust her into an assassination plot on the Third Reich’s highest authorities.

Tarantino sets up the story wonderfully, introducing us to Standartenführer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) as he interrogates a French dairy farmer on the whereabouts of a missing Jewish family. After determining their location and ordering the family’s execution Shosanna escapes the gunfire and Landa decides to not shoot her down as she runs away. The scene is uncomfortable and terrifying and its obvious from this opening sequence that Shosanna will play a key role in the remainder of the film. It is also quite evident that, for better or worse, Inglorious Basterds will not be like any Tarantino film that has come before.

Like all of Tarantino’s films, Inglourious Basterds is a mix of serious subject matter interspersed with Tarantino’s trademark pop-culture infused dialog and humor, as well as extreme violence that flirts with being distasteful. It also has well defined characters that people can relate to and some great individual performances (particularly Waltz). However unlike other Tarantino films, Inglourious Basterds doesn’t overdue any of those trademarks and weaves a coherent narrative that generally stays on target. In short it is a more mature Tarantino picture.

Of course that maturity does not directly equate to the film being his best effort behind the camera or, as the last line in the movie implies, his masterpiece. Inglorious Basterds is a good film, very good even, but it also suffers from many of the same problems older Tarantino films have. Like Tarantino’s last two films (Kill Bill Vol. 2 & Death Proof), Inglourious Basterds feels long. Never long in the sense that I was bored but the pacing can be horribly off at times. Further to that, there are entire scenes that take up huge chunks of time and introduce new characters, ultimately meaning little to the overall plot. Once again it seems as if Tarantino’s self-indulgence may have negatively effected the overall quality of the film.

In the end though Inglourious Basterds is a better film that Death Proof and Kill Bill Vol. 2. Its a more mature character driven drama that reiterates that Tarantino is still a top notch director worthy of the attention of film fans. Much like a fine scotch, his films will not be for everyone. However if you are a fan of Tarantino’s work previously, Inglourious Basterds may very well delight you.

4 out of 5

I do think it should be noted that the marketing push for this film has been highly misleading. If you base your perception of this movie based on those trailers you may very well be disappointed. 90% of all the action in this film has been shown in the trailers and some of what was shown in the trailers is not even in the film. The Basterds themselves play a key role in the overall story but only through a string of coincidences. Ultimately Inglourious Basterds is a character drama first and foremost and the two characters most focused on in this film are Shosanna and Landa, not Raine and his band of Jewish American soldiers.

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