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Review: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Premise: In Nazi-occupied France, a group of Jewish-American servicemen operate behind enemy lines, killing as many Nazis as possible and causing fear among the German ranks. At the same time, a Jewish woman hiding in France as a cinema owner plans to kill the entire Nazi leadership at a gala screening to be held at her theater. 

What Works: The opening and closing of Inglourious Basterds is some of the strongest material Quentin Tarantino has ever produced. There are a few terrific performances in the film. Brad Pitt is a joy to watch as American Lieutenant Aldo Raine and Pitt gets the joke of Tarantino’s dialogue the way few actors do. Also impressive is Christoph Waltz as Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, and he is cool and menacingly calculated. The less showy but nevertheless impressive performance here is Mélanie Laurent as theater owner Shosanna Dreyfus. Laurent’s scenes with Nazi officials are very tense and she brings dignity to a role that might otherwise be a stock femme fatale. Like most Tarantino films, the picture is metatextual; Inglourious Basterds is not really a war film, but a film about war films. The picture has nothing to do with the reality or history of World War II and that is Tarantino’s point. The finale, in which high ranking leaders of the Third Reich are targeted for mass execution while they are watching a war film, is a complex but fairly obvious indictment of the way filmmakers have used war. The revenge fantasy Tarantino presents his audience is a satire of Hollywood’s disconnect with the realities of violence, politics, and warfare. It’s a bold statement and an important one, and Tarantino pulls it off.

What Doesn’t: The middle of Inglourious Basterds is a mess, sometimes incoherent and other times just boring. More than any other film he has made, Tarantino traps himself in his love for his own dialogue. In Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction, Tarantino made many references to other works of cinema, but integrated them into the narrative of the film. In Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino hits us over the head with homage, seemingly more intent on impressing the audience with his knowledge of cinema than of using it to further the story or the themes of the film.

Bottom Line: Inglourious Basterds showcases both the best and worst of Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking. There is a brilliant film here, but it’s hidden under the rubble of a lot of other material.

Episode: #253 (August 30, 2009)