Richard Roeper Blog

The power of “Inglourious.”

“Inglourious Basterds”
**** 1/2 stars (out of 5)

Apparently some critics are upset at Quentin Tarantino for creating a revenge-fantasy, parallel-universe World War II movie in which a team of Jewish bounty hunters scalp Nazis, history is rewritten at every turn and Brad Pitt talks like the offspring of Forrest Gump and a Monty Python character.

Guess we should also condemn “The Blues Brothers” for the gratuitous use of “Illinois Nazis,” and of course Indiana Jones, and “The Dirty Dozen,” and…

Or we could recognize a big-ass drive-in movie for what it is.

Offensive? Really? As if audiences aren’t smart enough to discern that “Inglourious Basterds” is a cinematic mash-up in which Tarantino samples everything from the spaghetti Western to the film noirs of the 1940s to movies like “The Dirty Dozen.” He’s not engaging in Holocaust denial or exploiting history; he’s giving us a great B-movie that careens wildly from style to style but is always, always letting us in on the experience. Here is a movie, Tarantino tells us from the opening scene, which is the best opening scene in any film of 2009. It is not to be taken seriously at any turn. Enjoy the ride.

The “Basterds” of the title are a team of bloodthirsty, Jewish soldiers led by Brad Pitt’s (decidedly non-Jewish) twangy-voiced, goofy-mustached Lt. Aldo Raine. (A nod to old-time character actor Aldo Ray, who was in a number of war pictures.) They are not interested in capturing German soldiers; they are interested in hunt-and-execution, but only after inflicting as much pain as possible on their prey as they extricate information about the location of other Nazis.

Pitt delivers a robust and hilarious performance—-but the Basterds aren’t even the most intriguing characters Tarantino has assembled in yet another one of his brilliant, deeply layered screenplays in which multiple storylines play out at a leisurely pace before intersecting in ingenious and of course bloody fashion.

In the opening scene, we meet the Nazi officer Hans Landa, who takes pride in his nickname: “Jew Hunter.” Austrian actor Christoph Waltz (Best Actor winner at Cannes) gives the supporting performance of the year and one of the most memorable performances of the decade as Landa, a Satanic figure with a silky smooth veneer. Landa sits across the table from a French farmer, downing the farmer’s milk, lighting up his pipe and affecting a friendly tone as he verbally vivisects the poor man into divulging information about a Jewish family that’s been in hiding for months. It is a masterful scene, with the tension escalating like a drip…drip…dripping faucet that cannot be silenced. If those opening minutes were released as a self-contained story, it would be worthy of an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

But Tarantino is just getting warmed up. In addition to meeting Aldo Raine and his team of vigilantes (including director Eli Roth in a terrific turn as a killer known as the “Bear Jew,” who revels in beating his victims to death with a baseball bat), we see Hitler and Goebbels as cartoonishly grotesque parodies (and why not?); Michael Fassbender as a British commando who also happens to be a film critic (CQ); and Diane Kruger as a famous and beloved actress working as a double agent.

Most and best of all there’s the luminous Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna, who narrowly escaped Landa’s clutches a few years earlier and is seen a few years later, running a cinema in German-occupied Paris. A German war hero tries to court her (she’s repulsed) by convincing Goebbels they should premiere the fictional version of the war hero’s story at Shoshanna’s movie house. When Hitler himself decides he’ll attend the premiere, Shoshanna and Aldo launch separate and equally insane schemes to turn that premiere into a night the Nazis will never forget—-that is, if any of them survive.

That’s the meat-and-potatoes of “Inglourious Basterds.” There’s no shortage of quality kills and over-the-top violence—-but as is always the case with Tarantino, the real exhilaration comes from extended sequences peppered with funny, smart, surprising exchanges, followed by bursts of violence. At one point Kruger’s Bridget sets up a meet with a team of Allied agents masquerading as German officers in a cellar bar populated by real German soldiers who are getting drunk, as well as a keen-eared Nazi officer who is lurking around the corner, picking up that something ain’t right in the bar. It’s a World War II version of the scene in “True Romance” when everybody winds up in the same room, and things are light and casual for a while—-and then, not so much. What a great piece of filmmaking.

My only disappointment with “Inglourious Basterds” comes with the final act, which is set up so beautifully but doesn’t quite fire on every cylinder. Shoshanna’s revenge plan isn’t as clever as you’d expect it to be, and a few characters exit the movie in less than satisfying fashion. As for the pure-evil Hans Landa: he has some amazing moments near the end, but I would have liked to see—-well, I don’t want to give anything away. After the movie’s been out for a while, I’ll return to Landa’s fate.

For more than a few critics and cinephiles, Quentin Tarantino will always be held against the Quentin Tarantino who revolutionized movies with “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” just as M. Night Shyamalan will never live down the expectations created by “The Sixth Sense.” Both directors would probably admit they might have enjoyed the hype and the fame a bit too much, and that may have rubbed some people the wrong way. And maybe neither will ever match the greatness of the movies that turned them into icons.

Fine: “Inglourious Basterds” isn’t as good as “Pulp Fiction.” Neither are 99.9 percent of films that have come out in the last 15 years.

It’s still one of the best movies of 2009.

20 Responses to “The power of “Inglourious.””

  1. Tommie Lee Says:

    MAN I can’t wait to see this…thanks as always for the insights. I love the ‘ol WWII movies and I’m happy to see the Aldo Ray ref.

  2. JulieDC Says:

    Hi Richard!

    Would it be possible to increase the font on your stars at the top? I actually thought you gave it a 1/2 star bc that was all I saw at the top. Then, I read your review and realized you *liked* the movie and at a closer glance saw those were asterisks. Just a suggestion! 🙂

  3. Michael Desantis Says:

    I’ll be seeing it tomarrow.

  4. Elphie's twin Says:

    Can’t wait to see it! It’s just sad it isn’t a true story and 6 million + lives were lost.

  5. Danny Says:

    You mentioned that Waltz’s performance stacks up as one of your best of the decade. Would you put him above Ledger on that list?

  6. Impeach Obama Says:

    Oh, please, Danny. The cartoon Dog in “UP” would be above Ledger on any list. Yes, yes… he was a ‘fine’ Joker, but hardly deserving of half the credit people seem to heap upon him in that film.

  7. Danny Says:

    Take half of the credit he earned for his performance and I would say it’s still better than half the villains we’ve seen in cinema history. By thinking that putting Ledger’s performance among the best of the decade is crazy, you either have a seriously flawed opinion, or you’re oblivious to what a good performance is (or both).

    P.S. You even called him “fine” in your statement, and that STILL didn’t beat out the cartoon dog. You think that dog will be up for an Oscar?

  8. Neil Says:

    Just got home from seeing it. While I liked it quite a bit, I felt like I’ve seen Tarantino’s tricks before and that his next film really needs to challenge him. Yes, the opening 20 minutes or so are as good as anything he’s done before, but over the next 2 1/2 hours (which should have been edited down to two–mostly by shortening the basement bar scene), it just seemed to be somewhat tired, with occasional bursts of hilarity and violence. I don’t know….I liked the film, but I hope Quentin pushes himself on the next one. All the great directors push themselves, and I don’t think Quentin has risen to that challenge yet.

  9. Jon Says:

    Wow..I agree Richard, a fine peice of film making. The film-fire scene is just flat out incredible with a nice Wellesian flair. Christoph Waltz’ portrayal was damn near perfection. He is an amazing find by Tarantino and will probably walk away with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar although his role seemed to be much larger than Brad Pitts. Rod Taylor’s turn as Churchill was terrific as well as Mike Myers cartoonish and Pythonesque British military officer. What a breathe of fresh air to spend $12.00 on a ticket and get a chance to see really “old is new” exciting and compelling filmmaking. With all the shlock we are exposed to it is nice to escape for 2 1/2 hours into the bizarre yet entertaining mind of Tarrantino.

  10. Corey L. Jackson Says:

    This is without question Quentin Tarantino’s best film since Pulp Fiction.

  11. Evan W. Says:

    Wow, I agreed with almost everything that Richard said. I love how Landa (my favorite character) doesn’t get his way through violence, but words, persuading through a truly sincere but evil personality. The opening scene was definitely the best and will just dig into your skin. The only thing I partly disagreed with was about the ending. I could feel my heart pounding, trying to get out of my chest; and I thought Landa’s fate was smart and interesting. No, it doesn’t have the impact that Pulp Fiction left on society, but personally, it’s my favorite Tarantino flick and the best movie this year.

  12. Richard Embardo Says:

    What movie did you people see? Apparently you didn’t see the orgy of self indulgence (on both sides of the camera) that I did. Quentin Tarantino makes films like an adolescent boy (wouldn’t it be cool if some guy got his head bashed in with a baseball bat?)And most disturbingly he doesn’t care at all for the internal logic of his own story. The great Jew hunter Landa allows a young Jewish girl to run away into the woods after going through the considerable trouble of tracking her family down? Good thing though, because she has to grow up to own a French cinema. Please. Anyone with two ounces of unbattered brain matter can see through the despicable manipulations of this childish script. And worst of all, he turns the Jews into the same sadistic animals that the Nazis were. The Jewish people deserve better cinematic representation.

  13. chad stein Says:

    I liked your review and miss you on the show. I have just seen Iglorious Basterds for the second time. So obviously I liked it. I think the scene in the basement-tavern, with the cat and mouse between the gestapo agent and the English comando was one of the best scenes I have ever seen. It blew me away. The rest of the chapters were also compelling. The length of dialogue doesn’t bothers. Even all the chick-talk in Death Proof was fine.

    I imagine some people might be dissapointed with the Basterds considerning how its promoted, centering on Brad Pitt and his charge to get a hundred Nazi scalps. Some people probably thought that the movie would be mostly about Brad and the Basterds kicking ass. Then they find they got to read subtitles with cryptic filmophile references.

    I was reading some reviews on the movie and I was a little peeved at some of the negatives that came up. I understand that some people might be turned off by the violence or they may think the devices he uses are a little too clever (I remember I was actually bothered by the square that Uma Thurman drew in Pulp Fiction), but I don’t understand how Tarantino could not at least be appreciated for the energy and singularity of purpose he infuses into his work. And it’s just so…entertaining.

    I don’t know if he’ll ever win an Oscar. Probably Pulp Fiction was his best shot. And who did he loose out to? Titanic. Probably this year Cameron’s Avatar will beat out Basterds.

  14. Impeach Obama Says:

    Maybe I should have said, “passable” rather than fine. He was passable as the Joker, nothing more. Although, you know who deserves an Oscar for overacting? The One-Termer in the Oval Office.

  15. GrayslakeTom Says:

    When Tarantino is on he’s great, “Inglorious Basterds” is on. To hear Pitt’s character pronounce “Buongiorno” is worth the price of admission. Waltz is brilliant, much more nuanced performance than Ledger (who was very good).

  16. GrayslakeTom Says:

    When Tarantino is on he’s great, “Inglorious Basterds” is on. To hear Pitt’s character pronounce “Buongiorno” is worth the price of admission. Waltz is brilliant, much more nuanced performance than Ledger (who was very good).

  17. drew Says:

    Loved the movie and I’m going to see it again. The scene in the bar was worth the price of admission alone.

    But…..Eli Roth was terrific? Adequate, maybe, but I wouldn’t be gushing over him with high praise. It’s just another case of one director putting his friends in the movie simply because he can. Sure, he fit the role but let’s not waste words like “terrific” on a four minute performance otherwise the word will lose all meaning. Then you’ve turned into Gene Shalit.

    Wouldn’t mind hearing Tarantino’s explanation as to why Landa spared the girl in the first place. Twisted sense of sportsmanship perhaps?

  18. Graham Abraham Says:

    Dear Richard Roeper,

    Thanks for letting me into your film review site! I always have admired your work and that inspired me to write 11 movie reviews on or the Internet Movie Database. I basically would like to say that I saw this movie at AMC theater in Times Square, New York City and all I wanted to see were the medieval gut-slashing deaths of Adolf Hitler and Colonel Hans Landa. I hate both Nazis and bullies in movies these days.
    If I were an American soldier in Afghanistan and some Arab tried to annoy me with a white-hot poker, I WOULD TAKE OUT A MACHETE AND SEND HIS BLOOD PROJECTING HEAD FLYING! All right, I’ll knock off the tough side, because I just plain hate masochistic villains portrayed on the screen. It may be new and squeamish for other audience members in terms of war violence, but I love seeing an unstoppable American GI coming at Hitler with a fully-loaded Tommy gun! Wow with a pow, I say. In my opinion this is as awesome as the upcoming Pennsylvania movie “The Lovely Bones”.
    Also, I’m letting my cat out of the bag by saying that I while I attend Hampshire College this fall, I want to be a film director for my own films that would be distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. If you allow me to stay on your site, I would love to say a big thank you! Richard, please let me know what are your recommendations in terms of thrillers and action adventure films. I just love the best of the best since those movies are as inspiring as Shakespeare and Roald Dahl.


    Graham Abraham

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