Inglorious Basterds Review: An Effectively Brutal Yet Displaced Revisionist War Film

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“This just might be my masterpiece,” states Lt. Aldo Raine, a charming yet humbly sadistic Brad Pitt staring at the camera with a blood soaked tip on his blade in the final shot of the film. This tongue in cheek remark has to be a sort of reference to Tarantino’s new film itself, Inglorious Basterds, one that despite its stark pompous delivery is clearly meant to mock the final outcome his film presents. This intensely and horrifyingly graphic film depiction of an alternate reality of World War II embraces the revisionist elements of the western and significantly applies it to the world we are most comfortably seeing one side as good and the other as evil. Humiliating and sub-humanizing the Nazi is clearly a task that most WWII films explore, yet rarely has there been a film that allows its supposed heroes to delve into that animalistic depravity and inflict pain on a level equal to that of the cruelest villains. Anyone with a light stomach should be warned of the graphic scalping, strangulation, head smashing brutality that encompasses Inglorious Basterds and is relentless at depicting violence in as graphic of detail equal to the meandering and drawn out dialogue segments that is in classic Tarantino fashion. The good news about Basterds is that it is by far in better genre delivery and more interesting in character and conversation than Tarantino’s past two films (Death Proof and Kill Bill) but at the same time lacks the finesse and the humility that a creative mind should have when divulging in the director’s own self-referencing personality, which distracts from the film as a whole despite it’s inventive camera work and post-modern take on the War genre.

In an incredibly blatant reference to the Dirty Dozen, Inglorious Basterds introduces us to a group of Jewish-American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine, played efficiently and humorously by Brad Pitt. They are dropped into Germany to disrupt the Nazi reign of terror and kill as many Nazis as they can in the hopes of ending the war completely. Their tactics are brutal as well as efficient and they do indeed strike fear in the minds of Nazi commanders and soldiers with the cruelty they live behind as a reminder of what they are capable of doing. Yet despite the title referring to these “Basterds,” a nickname the Germans have given them along with individual nicknames such as the “Bear Jew” or the “Apache,” the film is surprisingly not particularly about them. The film focuses around a young dairy farmer named Shoshanna, played remarkably well by Melanie Laurent, who barely escaped the brutal slaying of her family at the hands of Colonel Hans Landa also known as the “Jew Hunter,” played in an exquisitely executed role from Austrian actor Christoph Waltz. Shoshanna has escaped the country side only to be living in Paris as the proprietor of a cinema, allowing some of that Tarantino geek-dom to be explored in a look how much I know about cinema sort of way. But the motivations are the key and Tarantino falls back on the obvious one when it comes to Nazis, the “Basterds” and Shoshanna are Jewish, and therefore in this alternate reality they will have their chance at killing Hitler. Shoshanna will be the host of a new Goebbels production where she plans to kill everyone who attends, while the “Basterds” make their way to the premiere with the same intentions. This duality of vengeance that plays off the two story lines is effective even if it’s simplistic and Tarantino proves that as a unique screenwriter he can certainly make things interesting.

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Tarantino is certainly a modern filmmaker despite his constant references to classic cinema. His chosen angles are quite visually enthralling while his reliability with editing, not with dialogue but rather with scene progression, just goes to show how having the right cinematographer (Robert Richardson) and editor (the reliable Sally Menke) means to a film as a whole. However, despite the film’s technical strengths, which there are many, there seems to be some flaws in the presentation of the story, which by all means lacks the sort of delivered ingenuity Tarantino has been known for. Some of the scenes are quite long and are a tad drawn out but due to some interesting twists to various scenes, especially the opening between a dairy farmer and the “Jew Hunter,” it works for each scene as a whole. But that is in essence the problem, the film is just a series of moments, well thought out and interesting moments that never seem to bring the film as a whole together in message or context. The film leaves behind coherency of its characters for a more humorous and self-referencing atmosphere. What could have been an incredibly evil villain in Col. Hans Linda, perhaps potentially equivalent to Ralph Fiennes interpretation of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, turns out to be a farce in the end trading in devotion to a depiction of evil for a bit of comedy. The same goes for most of the deep exploration of the characters, there is just not enough substance to build on but rather presents us with what is, allowing the film to stay on a straight line of storytelling delivery rather than building up to its full effect.

What’s interesting about Inglorious Basterds is this revisionism to the war genre, one that is tough to understand if it’s meant to be understood at all. Usually a protagonist is supposed to be honorable and perhaps noble with their intentions never debasing themselves to the antagonist’s level staying true to their values, which is especially true with WWII an obvious case of good vs. evil. Yet the “Basterds” are the ones who inflict the cruelest of punishments that are visually seen throughout the film. Just using the word Nazi is sufficient enough reason to disembowel, scalp, and bash their brains out. Even the more innocent yet gravely effected Shoshanna is out for blood in a cruel form of vengeance that doesn’t seem to target the person that personally killed her family but rather the idea of Jewish hatred itself. The “Basterds” are fighting fire with fire, bringing cruelty to the cruel, and fear to the ones who pray on fear. Perhaps placing the film in an alternate reality was the only plausible solution to depict soldiers of this nature in a believable sort of way. The reality is that the film for all intensive purposes was intended in delivery as a pulp film, a post-modern study of absurdity, while in the depths of war. This eliminates the definite division between good and evil, despite our obligation to stay along side the sadistic actions of the “Basterds.” They toss out nobility for cruelty and because the enemy is the Nazi, it serves as a reminder of deserved retribution and how far we’re willing to go with the “Basterds.”

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Tarantino’s new film is by far his strongest in years despite the flaws of character coherency, plot efficiency, and its overall message delivery. Proving again that he is a filmmaker’s filmmaker, Tarantino uses great camera work, intriguing dialogue, and an auteur personality that is uniquely presented in all of his characters this time in a more effective presentation than his grindhouse film Death Proof or the latter installment of the Kill Bill series. While the violence can be alienating for some audience members it is handled rather well, with intensity and swiftness that really puts you in a mental readiness for what might happen next. There are some moments of film elitism in his references of Riefenstahl or even how the French respect their directors but this is all in good fun amidst the more intense and graphic moments that the film provides. Inglorious Basterds is definitely not Tarantino’s masterpiece but the tongue and cheek delivery of that line while delivering a brutal carving of a Nazi symbol is perhaps Tarantino’s own realization of that very fact.

Grade: B

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Comments
2 Responses to “Inglorious Basterds Review: An Effectively Brutal Yet Displaced Revisionist War Film”
  1. Juan Carlos says:

    For being the first Tarantino film I watched on the big screen, I feel like I got what I paid for.

  2. I think the bar scene and the opening scene in the farmhouse are two of the most suspenseful scenes ever recorded on film!
    Personally…..I loved the film, but Tarantino can’t really do much wrong in my books…………and I actually have one of those books…..(Stuntman Mike – “Death Proof”)!

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