Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Starring: Brat Pitt, Melanie Laurent, and Christoph Waltz
Directed and Written By: Quentin Tarantino
What’s not to love about Quentin Tarantino? The man obviously loves movies. Not just the typical ones that everyone likes, but also the more obscure ones such as the grindhouse style movie and the spaghetti western (as can be seen in Grindhouse and the Kill Bill movies). Originally noticed by the great heist film Reservoir Dogs and then hitting it big with Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has left his mark on Hollywood and on us. He never compromises: he puts his vision on to the big screen in all of it’s graphic detail. Inglourious Basterds is his latest film, though it’s far from his greatest.
Inglourious Basterds opens with a bang as we meet the film’s villain: SS officer Colonel Hans Landa (Waltz in an Oscar winning performance). Known as the “Jew Hunter,” Landa enters the dairy farm of Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) in search of the Dreyfus family. Immediately, we can tell that this is one very intelligent man and despite his polite facade, it’s also apparent that there’s a twisted mind inside of his skull. He eventually draws the confession of hiding Jews from LaPadite (Landa already knew they were there) and has his men gun them down…save a girl named Shosanna (Laurent) who’s able to run away.
Then we meet the Basterds, led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Pitt). The Basterds are a group of Jewish American soldiers dropped behind enemy lines to cause havoc with the Nazi soldiers, both physically and mythically, such as giving the Basterds nicknames like “The Bear Jew (Eli Roth).” In the meantime, Shosanna escapes to Paris and runs a cinema. Here a young German war hero (Daniel Bruhl) becomes smitten with her and changes the premier location of the propaganda film starring him to her small theatre, the Basterds move into action. With the help of a German superstar actress/double agent (Diane Kruger), the Basterds plan on destroying the theatre while top Nazi officials are present: including Adolph Hitler himself. Landa, however, is always present and chasing close behind.
This all sounds pretty cool, right? And for the most part it is. For starters, this is a complete work of fiction. Nowhere does the film say that it’s based on true events, so don’t let where the movie ends up distract you. Think of this as a parallel universe. The dialogue is wonderful as you would expect from a Tarantino film and there are a ton of very humorous lines throughout the length of the movie. All the actors do a fine job. Roth is rather funny as Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz. Kruger truly looks like a classic film star. Pitt is outstanding as the hillbilly-like leader of the Basterds. Laurent is absolutely superb as the revenge driven Shosanna.
As good as Laurent is, the real star is Waltz as Landa. This is the kind of villain you just don’t see in films and one of the most entertaining I’ve ever seen. As stated before, Landa has a calm demeanor about him which only hides a much more sinister interior. He’s very calculating and, Shosanna aside, often the most likable person in the film. This only makes Landa that much more disturbing. We aren’t so much rooting for the vile character as much as we’re in awe with how he’s able to figure things out so quickly (watch for the Sherlock Holmes pipe in the opening scene, it’s hard to miss). What’s even better, he doesn’t always catch his prey right away, but rather waits for the perfect time to spring his trap.
Is Inglourious Basterds a perfect movie? Not in the slightest. Some scenes seem to go on and on. The tavern scene, while mostly enjoyable, takes forever to finally get to where it’s going (and it ends in a flash). That’s just one example, there are others. The movie never seems to truly drag, it just takes a while to get to the fast moving final act. I think the biggest issue is that the Basterds themselves hold the movie back. Yes, they’re rather amusing and do some entertaining things, but every minute that they’re on screen takes away time from the real story: that of Landa and Shosanna.
Bottom Line: Inglourious Basterds is a good movie that has outstanding dialogue and solid acting (led by the excellent Laurent and brilliant Waltz). However, it’s not a great movie. There are needlessly long scenes and unfortunately the Basterds themselves prevent the film from sticking with the most entertaining parts of the movie. This really should have been about Landa and Shosanna. Again, it’s a good movie, just not up to par from the man that brought us the Kill Bill movies and Pulp Fiction.