This review was published August 30th, 2009
Well folks, summer's almost over; my internship's ending, school's starting up again, and we're all playing Arkham Asylum at last (not a bad game btw). At the cinema scene, I'm pretty happy with this summer with the stupid fun of G.I. Joe, the thrills of the first half of Star Trek, smart action from District 9, and the best movie of the year so far The Hurt Locker. But in my mind it all lead of to this moment; the two hours at the movies I've been waiting for almost a decade to see. This summer, I was interested in one thing and one thing only: Killin' Nazis!
Inglourious Basterds, the latest from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, is a WWII fairy tale featuring intertwining stories between Nazis, runaway theater owners, spies, and "The Basterds," a Jewish-American team of super-solders strait out of a 70's exploitation flick. The movie revolves around a screening of a Nazi propaganda film "Nation's Pride" where the major leaders of the 3rd Reich, including Hitler himself, will be attending. Upon the news, all the spies, solders, and even the theater owner, want to burn every leader of the room, so our story begins.
Don't believe the Marketing the film which sets up. The filck isn't about the Basterds, led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), being at the center stage for this adventure. They're only in for about a fourth of the movie. The story also takes focus to Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish run-away who runs a theater where the film is screening, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), an actress working as a spy strait out of the Ernst Lubitsch movie To Be or Not To Be (Look It Up!!), and Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a brutal commander nick-named "The Jew Hunter."
Quentin Tarantino preparing the Sergio Leone-esc opening
Tarantino has said in interviews that he's been working on the script for Basterds for about 10 years and it's very episodic. Each of these story lines feels like it's own individual film from a romantic drama, 40's suspense thriller, and a grindhouse flick rolled into one. It almost feels like a mix-tape for movies depicting WWII and we get a lot in this 2 1/2 hour sandwich. It starts out with "Once Upon a Time...In Nazi Occupied France" and that's exactly how to sum it up: a fairy tale only movies can do for us leading from our fantasies of Jewish ass-kicking, romantisisning of the era, and how cinema has portrayed it all.
This, I feel, is part of the movie's problem: it tries to fit too much into it's scenes and can become rather tiresome; especially with the dialogue. I really started to lose interest after going on and on about the dating prospects, movies of the 40's and what kind of wine Nazis drink. The movie is trying hard to have these scenes of high tension before giving us an explosion but I couldn't stop drifting from for these scenes wondering when he's going to get to the point.
The Bar Scene dialogue needs a little off the top, bottom, and middle.
Aside from that, the movie has some truly amazing moments in it. One thing Tarantino loves to do is play with the audience's expectations and that's certainly on display here. A good example is when a Jewish woman is running away from Col. Landa for her life. We see Landa aim his gun at her back with a giant musical score leading to what will be a melodramatically tragic death. Then he points the gun away from her, she escapes, and Landa laughs. I can picture Tarantino himself laughing at the audience with his dark, twisted joke.
Speaking of which, the music plays a central role in the film giving us some twists between scenes. At one moment, we'll be in a montage of interrogation with spy tactics and then we cut to a completely different scene and tone. A lot of the time, it's pretty funny to have these sudden cuts between scenes. There were a few odd choices in the soundtrack ranging from David Bowe to Charles Bernstien that I'm sure is from a 70's or 80 movie I'm too old to have heard of. Sometimes it works great for in-between scenes for a funny change of mood but others where it seems unnecessary and confusing. One annoying thing is that he used music from the Kill Bill soundtrack. That stuff worked wonders for Kill Bill but hearing it again seems like a wink at his own voice.
But the big highlight that makes the movie shine are the Basterds themselves. Brad Pitt is enormous fun to watch as he smirks with his cartoonish accent, smug attitude, and especially when he enters the theater with the funniest fake Italian you'll ever hear in a movie. They have some of the funniest lines, moments, and explosive climax's of the movie. Even Eli Roth as "The Bear Jew" is a lot of fun with his bat and that awesome smile will win you over. Trust me, you'll love the Basterds.
Speaking of performances, Pitt and Roth do their jobs and so do a lot of the cast. Kruger shows a great double performance as the fun drinking buddy and hard determined spy; Laurent is great as a seductive, determine fighter, and romantic. But the best performance of the bunch goes to Christoph Waltz as "The Jew Hunter." The same way David Carradine made the monster Bill a likable, sympathetic character, Waltz does the same thing here. I just get scared watching him and in a way root for him too. Only a few actors can pull that off and Waltz does it very well.
Overall the movie really is 50-50. There are grand moments of suspense, dark comedy, great acting, but some off-putting music moments, overly drawn dialogue, and has the feeling it could have been cut down to two hours. Overall though, I do say to check it out because for all the whiskey talk, the Basterds, explosive climaxes, twisting with the audience, and especially the incredibly satisfying explosive ending are well worth it.