Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/23/09 w/ Additional Edits.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds is a World War II film that tells two different stories revolving around a sinister SS colonel known as the Jew Hunter. In one storyline, a group of Jewish-American soldiers go on a mission to take down Nazis with the help of a German actress and British/French officers. Another story involves a Jewish woman seeking revenge for the death of her family under the hands of the Jew Hunter. An ambitious film that is partially inspired by Spaghetti Westerns and World War II films. The film features an all-star cast including Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Bruhl, Mike Myers, B.J. Novak, Samm Levine, Rod Taylor, and longtime Tarantino associate Samuel L. Jackson. Inglourious Basterds is a fun, lively, entertaining, and thrilling revisionist war film from Quentin Tarantino.
It's 1941 in France as a German Colonel named Hans Landa aka the Jew Hunter (Christoph Waltz) arrives onto the home of a local diary farmer named Pierre LaPadite (Denis Menochet) as Landa interrogates the diary man. Landa is trying to find a Jewish family hiding somewhere where he charms LaPadite about milk and comparing Jews to rats. Landa through his charming ways and in English, gets LaPadite to reveal the whereabouts about the family where he succeeds in nearly killing a whole family with the exception of a surviving Jewish woman named Shoshana Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent). Three years later in 1944, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is leading a small platoon of Jewish-American soldiers including Staff Sergeant Donny Donowitz aka the Bear Jew (Eli Roth), Wilhelm Wicki (Gedeon Burkhard), Smithson Uvitch aka the Little Man (B.J. Novak), Omar Ulmer (Omar Doom), Michael Zimmerman (Michael Bacall), and Gerold Hischberg (Samm Levine). Raine wants 100 Nazi scalps from each of his troops as debts paid.
After attaining the service of a psychopathic German soldier named Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) as part of the Basterds crew, the Basterds manage to succeed in killing several Nazis including an officer named Werner Rachtman (Richard Sammel) after being beaten by Donowitz's baseball bat. A surviving soldier tells all of this to Adolf Hitler (Martin Wuttke) about what the Basterds have done. In France, Shoshana has renamed herself as Emmanuelle Mimieux where she runs a local cinema in Paris as she comes across a young German soldier named Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). Zoller pursues her wanting to discuss films with her as he is starring in a film by Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth). Mimieux reluctantly meets with Goebbels, his assistant (Julie Dreyfus), and later the security officer who is none other than Col. Landa.
Mimieux decides to plot revenge against Landa and the Germans by holding a private screening for German officers and officials where the cinema would burn through nitrate film with help from her lover Marcel (Jacky Ido). Meanwhile in Britain around the same time, a dispatch officer named Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) is called upon by his superior General Ed Fenech (Mike Myers) about a rendezvous with a spy in German actress Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Krueger) at a tavern where he will meet with the Basterds team. Hicox arrives to the small town of Nadine to meet with the Basterds but a party involving a German staff sergeant (Alexander Fehling) who is celebrating the birth of his newborn son. Hicox and Stiglitz arrive to the party pretending to be Nazi officers where Hicox's German accent seemed odd to the sergeant and an SS officer (August Diehl). Things seem to go well until something goes wrong as plans for what to do next has been altered. With the Basterds now having to take control, they make a plan to assassinate Hitler, Goebbels, and other top Nazi officials at the movie theater while Shoshana has her own plans to kill the Nazis as everything comes to ahead in one entire night.
World War II films often deal with some kind of historical context and artifacts that relates to a certain event and battle that happens in that historic war. It is often considered to be the last great war that was fought with honor and something to fight for. For Quentin Tarantino who is an avid film buff, his longtime dream to make his own World War II film was something that he's been doing for many years. Though he nabbed the title from a 1978 Italian B-movie by Enzo Castellari with some alterations, it's a film that is a part homage to that war film but also a homage to the genres that Tarantino loved. War films, Spaghetti westerns, French New Wave, and German cinema. Really, this film is a re-imagining of the World War II from Tarantino's own, unique, style of witty dialogue, quirky humor, and gratuitous violence.
Does Tarantino succeed with this approach? Most definitely, especially with the structure of the script which is told in five chapters. The first chapter is entitled Once Upon a Time in Occupied France about Landa's reputation as the Jew Hunter, chapter two is about the Basterds, and chapter three is about Shoshana's plot for revenge. Then the film moves into more intense, psychological action scenes involving the plot to kill Hitler and the climatic event in which the Basterds take control. Amidst all of this are three central characters that drive the story. The first is Shoshana Dreyfus, a woman who survived the massacre of her own family by Colonel Landa as she had reinvented herself as a cinema owner in hopes to avenge the death of her family in the hands of the Nazis.
The second and most interesting of all of the characters in the film is Colonel Landa. Now a villain is certainly a character that audiences want to hate but Landa is a character that exudes charm and wit where audiences can't help but kind of like the guy. He speaks multiple languages fluently, he can be very witty, and play it cool. He's the villain that you kind of want to hang out with, drink milk, and have a smoke with in hopes that he doesn't have you killed. Finally, there's Aldo Raine who is clearly the comic relief of the film he's part Apache with a huge knife while sporting a Southern accent who clearly wants to kill every Nazi out there.
Tarantino's witty dialogue, which featured additional translation in German by renowned German director Tom Tykwer, along with a tight story structure and memorable characters shows Tarantino's strength as a writer. As a director, Tarantino manages to create memorable scenes and compositions that are truly exhilarating to watch. From the high-octane scenes of gunfights and massacres to the intense close-ups of characters in long yet eerie dramatic scenes. Notably the meeting with Landa and LaPadite, Tarantino knows how to bring dramatic tension as well as a suspense that builds up to what will happen. In scenes of humor, Tarantino makes it playful and fun as he clearly lets the actor have some fun with the performances. Overall, this film shows that Quentin Tarantino isn't at the top of his game. He clearly reveals that he is among one of the best American film auteurs out there.
Cinematographer Robert Richardson does an incredible job with the photography from the majestic, broad look of the cinema that Shoshana runs to the eerie, intimate setting in the tavern scene. Richardson's work is phenomenal as he keeps the camera moving with nice movements in scenes following the characters as well as the exteriors in the forests in France. Tarantino's longtime editor Sally Menke does some excellent work in the editing from the rhythmic cutting of the action scenes to the slow but methodical pacing of the dramatic sequences. Menke's editing works in providing a sense of rhythm and structure to the chapter breaks where for a film of over two-and-a-half hours. She succeed in making the film feel shorter while wishing it would be longer.
Longtime Tarantino production designer David Wasco along with set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco and art director Sebastian T. Krawinkel does a spectacular job with the look of the cinema from its marble floors, seats, balconies, and the Nazi banners where the look overall is grand. Even the scenes at the tavern and Nazi prisons are well-made and decorated to look like a grand World War II period film. The costume design by Anna B. Sheppard are wonderful from the red dress that Shoshana wears at the premiere, the dress that Bridget von Hammersmark wears at the tavern, to the Nazi SS uniforms that several actors wear as the costumes are phenomenal. The sound work by sound editor Wylie Stateman and designers Harry Cohen & Ann Scibelli is amazing from the sound of Donowitz's bat, the gunshot, projector machines, the sound of theater, and everything else is brilliant.
The soundtrack supervised by Mary Ramos is brilliant as a lot of the music features score material from various films including The Battle of Algiers. A lot of the score pieces come from the famed Italian film composer Ennio Morricone. Along with pieces from Billy Preston, Lalo Schifrin, and a song from the 1982 Paul Schrader remake of Cat People by David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder. It's a soundtrack that works in creating tension and moments of action as it works on all of its sequences from start to finish.
The casting by Simone Bar, Olivier Carbone, Jenny Jue, and Johanna Ray is amazing with voice cameos from two associates of Quentin Tarantino. Harvey Keitel as the voice of the Basterds superior and Samuel L. Jackson as a man narrating some back story for a couple of key characters. Small appearances from Lea Seydoux, Tina Rodriguez, and Lena Friedrich as the daughters of LaPedite, Rod Taylor as Winston Churchill, Julie Dreyfus as Goebbels' translator/assistant, Bo Svenson as an American officer in Goebbels' film, Jacky Ido as Shoshana's lover Marcel, Martin Wuttke as Adolf Hitler, Sylvester Groth as Dr. Joseph Goebbels, and Richard Sammel as Sgt. Werner Rachtman. Other notable small roles such as Samm Levine, Paul Rust, Michael Bacall, and Gedeon Burkhard as the Basterds have a few memorable moments while Soenke Mohring is good as Private Butz, the man who is sent alive by the Basterds to Hitler.
Notable appearances from Mike Myers as a British general is good while Michael Fassbender has an excellent role as Lt. Archie Hicox. In the tavern scene, August Diehl is great as a SS officer who notices Hicox's odd accent along with Alexander Fehling as a young German soldier celebrating his son's birth. Denis Menochet is excellent as LaPadite in the film's opening yet tense dramatic scene while Til Schweiger is great as Hugo Stiglitz, a psychopathic German who likes to kill Nazis. Daniel Bruhl is excellent as a young German soldier trying to win over Shoshana unaware of her true identity while Diane Krueger is very good as Bridget von Hammersmark, a German spy who finds herself in huge trouble. In other notable roles as the Basterds, Omar Doom is funny as Omar while B.J. Novak has a great scene as Uvitch. Famed horror director Eli Roth gets a huge standout role as Donny Donowitz aka the Bear Jew who loves to kill Nazis with a baseball bat.
In what has to be one of his best film roles, Brad Pitt is wonderful as Lt. Aldo Raine. Sporting a Southern accent with a drawl that is fun to hear. While Pitt has been known for being a lead in either action films or drama, he's definitely at his best when he's doing comedy. Here, he gets to be cool yet funny while a scene in which he attempts to speak Italian is comedy gold as it's definitely one of his best roles of his career. French newcomer Melanie Laurent is brilliant as Shoshana Dreyfus, a French-Jewish woman seeking revenge for the death of her parents as she deals with a young German soldier, Col. Landa, and Dr. Goebbels while wanting to make her own film signaling the death of Nazis. Laurent's performance is definitely wonderful in its subtleties, dramatic tones, and scenes where she is really the heart of the film as it's definitely a breakthrough role for the French actress.
Finally, there's Christoph Waltz in what has to be one of the best performances of the decade. In the role of Col. Hans Landa, Waltz's sense of charm, wit, exuberance, and sly coolness only tops Pitt's performance to a tilt. Yet, there's a subtlety to him where it's clear that he's dangerous but is willing to be cool about it while not be overly threatening or violent. Waltz's allows the Landa character to just smile, be a likeable guy, and is willing to just get his way with a glass of milk, some strudel with cream, a German cigarette, and smile. Whether it's in German, French, Italian, or English, Christoph Waltz is far and out the best performance of the film and certainly one of the most enjoyable villains on screen in years.
Inglourious Basterds is flat-out, one of the year's most entertaining, thrilling, and fun films of 2009 thanks to Quentin Tarantino's sprawling direction. With a top-notch cast that includes superb performances from Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, and Brad Pitt, it's a film that is pure entertainment with lots of great action scenes, intense suspense, and lots of witty humor. While it may not be a great World War II feature in terms of historical context, it's a film that does make the idea of killing Nazis a whole lot of fun. In the end, for a film that has lots of gratuitous yet joyful violence, lots of witty dialogue, funny scenes, and something to cheer for. Inglourious Basterds is the film to see from Quentin Tarantino.
Quentin Tarantino Films: Reservoir Dogs - Pulp Fiction - Four Rooms-The Man from Hollywood - Jackie Brown - Kill Bill - Grindhouse-Death Proof - Django Unchained - The Hateful Eight - The Auteurs #17: Quentin Tarantino
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