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Review of ‘Inglourious Basterds’

‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a perfect example of a movie I watched primarily because so many critics dismissed it as trash. They didn’t like the idea of Jewish soldiers getting revenge on Nazis by scalping and other unpleasant methods, and they didn’t like the gore that sometimes is commonplace in Quentin Tarantino films (such as the battle between Beatrix Kiddo and the Crazy 88s in Kill Bill: Volume I).

Of Tarantino’s films, prior to IB I’d seen three: Pulp Fiction (mixed feelings due to the excessive profanity and the non-linear storyline), Jackie Brown (lots of profanity but overall not a bad movie) and Kill Bill Volumes I and II (lots of gore, but great storytelling). I have never seen Reservoir Dogs, considered by many QT fans to be his masterpiece.

I watched IB last night.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

For those unfamiliar with IB: it’s a historical fiction movie set in France in World War II and is a hodgepodge of drama, action, thriller and, as is a trademark of Tarantino films, underlying humor. Brad Pitt, playing the Tennessee-born lieutenant Aldo Raine, recruits a group of Jewish-American soldiers to join his unit, dubbed “Inglourious Basterds”*. Their mission: to kill Nazis (or “Naa-zis”, as Pitt deliciously says in his perhaps caricaturized Tennessee drawl). They are also to scalp Nazis they kill, and those they leave alive they use a knife to carve a swastika into their foreheads.

Their plan is riddled with gratuitous violence (it’s a war movie, for crying out loud!) and not really even sadistic. They are trying to strike fear into an organization of mad men who were ultimately responsible for the murdering of about seven million Jews during the Holocaust. If you think IB is gratuitous or sadistic, go rent Schindler’s List.

In another part of the story, a young Jewish girl named Shoshanna escapes murder at the hands of a Nazi officer, later runs a theater under the pseudonym Emanuelle Mimieux and plots her revenge against the Nazis for murdering her family. The climax is the most explosive one I’ve ever seen as you’re kept on your seat’s edge wondering if it’ll be successful or thwarted at the very last minute. It is very comparable to the bank robbery scene in Heat.

Storyline aside, you know the drill: I tell you what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I thought overall.

What I liked: Among the many things: the storyline, the acting, the plot, the pacing, the climax and the underlying humor. Some of the scenes may seem overly long, but the pacing and suspense are so well done that there’s no problem with them. There are times where a person’s cover is either blown or is in danger of being blown, and you as the viewer find yourself hoping the person realizes it sooner rather than later.

Besides the IB trying to instill fear into the Nazis who are killing their people, there’s also the tense moments when one of the Jewish-American soldiers blows his cover as a German officer, when another one looks about to blow his cover due to his perpetual look of disdain towards an actual German officer and then Shoshanna’s continued attempts to pass herself off as a non-Jewish Frenchwoman. At one point, four years after her family is murdered, she ends up again meeting the officer who’d tried to kill her. He tells her he had something else to tell her but can’t remember what it was. It is very strongly implied that he recognizes her but, with all the killing and hunting of Jews he’s done, can’t quite place her.

If you haven’t seen the movie but want to, skip over the following paragraph:

I also enjoyed the climactic scene where Shoshanna burns down her own theater during the premier of a film about a heroic German soldier. In the movie, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring are all at the premier. As the soldier’s film ends, Shoshanna appears on the screen and tells the crowd they will die at the hands of Jewish vengeance. She ends up getting killed, but all three of the top German officials also die.

What I didn’t like: There was profanity in it, and while the movie was not really as gory as some might claim, it’s definitely not for the squeamish. Or for kids.

Historical purists will readily point out that using the theater to kill lots of Germans (not to mention Hitler and his top henchmen) is completely inaccurate. Yeah, I get that. But the movie is historical fiction, and Tarantino never claims these events actually happened. For some, perhaps they pose a “What if?” scenario when wondering why Europe and the world dragged their collective feet and allowed millions to die in the death camps.

I found myself wishing this film wasn’t alternate history. It is indeed too bad that it would take another year for Hitler and Goebbels to die (the movie was set in 1944, and the two died in 1945) and two years for Göring to die. For them all to die at the hands of Jews is poetic justice in its purist form.

Overall, I absolutely loved Inglourious Basterds. A lot. It is, by far, my favorite Tarantino film and is one or two rungs below Heat as one of my favorite films. Enough to where I will someday add it to my DVD collection. For me, it’s an instant classic.

* I’m not exactly sure why Tarantino chose to spell his movie in a way that would make Microsoft Word underline both words in angry jagged lines. Can anyone enlighten me? 

Richard Zowie prefers to tell movie fans what he liked and disliked about a film and then to let them decide for themselves whether or not to watch it. Post comments here or e-mail him at fromatozowie@gmail.com.

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  1. Valkena
    August 9, 2010 at 6:53 am

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inglourious_Basterds

    *****
    The title of the film was inspired by the English title of director Enzo Castellari’s 1978 war film, The Inglorious Bastards.[17][18] When asked for an explanation of the film’s title spelling during a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival, Tarantino said, “I’m never going to explain that”.[19] When pushed on it, Tarantino would not explain the first u in Inglourious, but said, “The Basterds? That’s just the way you say it: Basterds.”[18][20] Tarantino later stated in an interview that the misspelled title is “a Basquiat-esque touch.”[21] He further commented on Late Show with David Letterman that Inglourious Basterds is the “Tarantino way of spelling it.”[22]
    *****

    My opinions:
    1. Possible copyright infringement with the 1978 Italian “macaroni combat” war film of the same name,
    2. Humanitarian effort to thus make Google searches for HIS movie easier for the masses,
    3. A need to “Tarantino-ize” it to reflect his own creative flavor, or…
    2. Perhaps he just didn’t know how to spell it?

    🙂

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