Film Review: Inglourious Basterds

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Sam Bathe on 14 Aug 2009

Inglourious Basterds

10 years in the making after starting to write the script for Inglourious Basterds back in the 1990s, fans and critics alike were billing Tarantino’s WWII project as the cult director’s masterpiece.

Following two converging stories, poles apart in Nazi-occupied France, Inglourious Basterds is a war drama much less focussed on the gunplay you might expect and instead exploring the lives living and those forcibly lost in the German tirades.

On one side of the resistance is Lt. Aldo Raine (Pitt), leader of a group of renegade Jewish-American soldiers, known as ‘The Basterds’, out to (literally) scalp as many Nazis as possible during their time across the pond, and fighting her own cause, Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent) is seeking to avenge the murder of her family by a devilish Nazi leader known as ‘The Jew Hunter’.

At almost two and a half hours long, for any war epic Inglourious Basterds is pushing the boundaries of audiences’ attention spans, but for Quentin Tarantino this is a brisk running time. Speaking of his time writing the script for Inglourious Basterds, he found himself suffering from the opposite of writer’s block and instead had far too many ideas to cram into one movie. For the first time ever, Tarantino reigned in his writing but still 148 minutes is a long movie to stomach, and there in lie two of the strongest and weakest points to the film.

Almost every scene feels extended, or even doubled, from what you’d find in any other director’s work. When used in the opening pivotal Nazi interrogation of a farm owner suspected of harbouring Jews or to intensify an undercover meeting in a pub, the long periods of dialogue and drawn out sequences create and effortlessly uncomfortable atmosphere and unremitting tension that at those points, fits the film perfectly.

On the reverse, when the situation doesn’t call for that extra time, the long cuts only strive to emphasize the slow pacing of the film and your desire for the film just to move on before boredom creeps in.

However, it isn’t necessarily Tarantino’s writing that’s to blame for the cumbersome scenes, like it was for the forced entire extra feature on Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterd’s problems could have been rectified in the cutting room. After criticism of the film’s length after screenings as Cannes, and The Weinstein Company’s dire financial need for this movie to become a roaring box office success, rumours circulated that executive producers the Weinsteins wanted Tarantino to cut a much shorter edit for theatrical release. Harvey Weinstein soon vehemently denied the stories but certainly with an outside eye ruling over some of the excessive sequences, the film could have been greatly improved.

Extra dialogue does though allow the opportunity for Tarantino to showcase his again brilliant writing. The film’s dialogue is snappy and witty, driving a lot of humous without the need for obvious jokes, making Inglourious Basterds arguably his funniest film to date.

With Brad Pitt in the ranks, you’d be right to expect a great performance from at least him and despite pulling of a somewhat ridiculous accent, it is Christoph Waltz that steals the show. As the aforementioned ‘Jew Hunter’, Nazi Col. Hans Landa is transformed into an electrifying and devilish character. Waltz gives the character an unerring sense of confidence and sincere belief that nothing will ever go wrong and that he will get the job done, without fail.

Inglourious Basterds certainly has its flaws, with the numerous chapter titles proving an unnecessary distraction to the at times lagging narrative, but still, after 10 years in the works, Inglourious Basterds is worth the wait. As you’d expect the film is very stylishly shot, and with help from the wardrobe team from Band Of Brothers, feels right at home in WWII France. Inglourious Basterds is not though the classic war movie you might have expected. There is hardly any actual fighting and shootouts are few and far between, meaning aside a handful of violent scenes, mostly involving scalping, this is more of a drama set in war times than a true action war film.

Despite some of the scenes dragging on too long, Inglourious Basterds is still a lot of fun, altering history for the better as the Nazis feel the force of redemption. Some have said this is Tarantino’s masterpiece but Inglourious Basterds is still certainly some way off Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, it is, however, much better than the misguided Death Proof and the self-absorbed Kill Bill meaning there’s certainly enough on offer to please those beyond die hard Tarantino fans.

★★★★★

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