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Inglourious Basterds (Review)

Inglourious Basterds (Review)

History gets Basterdised for the better.
Aug 25, 2009
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Inglourious Basterds
Genre: Adventure, Drama, War Release Date: 20/08/2009 Runtime: 153 minutes Country: USA, Germany


Director:  Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino Writer(s): 
Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Mélanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender
Inglourious Basterds (Review), reviewed by Anders Wotzke on 2009-08-25T15:25:00+00:00 rating 4.5 out of5

Inglourious Basterds is what you get when you leave everyone’s favourite cinematic psychopath, Quentin Tarantino, in a room with baseball bat, a hunting knife and a history book. Once he’s whacked history over the head, he proceeds to cut away all the boring bits, leaving behind a blood-drenched war epic like no other. As far as apologies go — and boy did Death Proof require one — they don’t come much better than this. Welcome back Tarantino of the 90s, we missed you.

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The marketing material for Inglourious Basterds would have you believe the star of the film is Brad Pitt, but don’t be fooled. This one completely belongs to Christoph Waltz as SS Colonel Hans Landa, aptly nicknamed the ‘The Jew Hunter’. In a tremendously tense opening scene, Landa interrogates a French dairy farmer suspected of hiding a Jewish family.  He deviously toys with farmer in no less than three different languages, smarmily revelling in his own wickedness, before calling his men in to kill the hidden Jews he knew were there from the beginning.  One girl manages to escape (Mélanie Laurent), but don’t hold your breath; it’s not till chapter three (yes, the film is structured like a novel) that we discover what becomes of her.

This opening scene alone is over twenty minutes long, partially subtitled and merely consists of two men talking. It doesn’t sound like it could possibly be interesting, yet it’s some of the best cinema you’ll see all year. Had it been penned by anyone other than Tarantino, it would have surely been a disaster. Without coming across as too self indulgent, Tarantino’s dialogue is so delectable, so meticulously construed, not even Keanu Reeves could have made it sound dull. Considerable credit must also go to Waltz’s superbly nuanced performance, which contextually moulds Tarantino’s rich lexis into a deliciously wicked character. Waltz has already won the best actor award at Cannes Film Festival for his effort, and he’s an absolute shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

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But hang on, isn’t this film about a platoon of  brutal Nazi-scalping soldiers? Firstly, don’t even pretend to know what this film is about. You really don’t, and that’s half the fun. Secondly, yes, it partially is about Lt. Aldo Raine’s (Brad Pitt) gore-hungry gang of Nazi killing soldiers, the Basterds. If Col. Landa’s scenes are where Tarantino relishes in his dialogue, those involving the Basterd’s are where he gets his fix of over-the-top violence. Trust Hostel director Eli Roth to induce most of the bloodshed as the “Bear Jew”, the most feared and revered Basterd of them all. He leaves it upto Lt. Raine to do all the talking, which is unwise considering his accent stands out like a red-neck at a dinner party with the Royal family, but that’s all part of the joke. Lt. Raine demands his men bring him one hundred Nazi scalps — much to the displeasure of the Führer (Martin Wuttke)  — yet most of this debt collection seems to happen off camera. For a 153 minute film, which is perhaps a smidge too long, it might come as a surprise that the Basterd’s hardly feature.

If Inglourious Basterds attests to anything, it’s that Tarantino truly loves job. That much is clear from the way he sets the film’s finale in a boutique French theatre of all places, bringing each seemingly unrelated story arch together  for one final massacre.  He simply adores the structural flexibility of the film medium, exploiting it at every moment he can. Unsure of who that newly introduced character is? Not to worry, because Samuel L. Jackson as the film’s intermittent narrator will briefly divert your attention with a  background summary. Didn’t spot the Nazi officer sitting in the left wing of the theatre? That’s ok, because his name appears alongside a directional arrow to help point him out.  Whereas most filmmakers wouldn’t dare pull us out of a film’s reality in such a manner, Tarantino knows how to pull it off. He  never wants us to forget that we’re watching a film, his film no less; a gloriously eccentric tour de force well worth the basterdisiation of history — and the English language — to behold.

[rating: 4.5/5]

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