Inglourious Basterds

inglourious basterds“Nazis.  I hate those guys.” – Indiana Jones, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Nazis make the best villains.  They are efficient for story telling in that they require no explanation.  Every one knows Nazis are the embodiment of evil.  From “Casablanca” right up to Quentin Tarantino’s new film “Inglourious Basterds” all the Nazis have to do is enter a scene and they bring the dramatic tension with them.  On top of that if they are preening, sneering and pompous so much the better.  Director Quentin Tarantino utilizes this knowledge with relish in “Inglourious Basterds.”

“Inglourious Basterds” is brutal, revenge, bloody comic book historical fiction.  It is also well written, tense and satisfying.   Picture “The Dirty Dozen” done as a Spaghetti Western and you will have a good idea.  The Basterds (misspelling intentional) are a military unit of Jewish Americans, save for their leader Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who parachute into occupied France with one mission – to kill Nazis.  How great to see a WWII movie where the Jews are not victims.  The film features tough Jews who fight back, not to mention a tough Jewish woman, Shosanna, played by the beautiful and strong Melanie Laurent.

Tarantino’s use of operatic like music (think Ennio Morricone) and his willingness to interrupt scenes with mini flashbacks that give us characters’ back stories, or quickly establish characters’ relationships, is very reminiscent of the Italian Western genre and a great technique rarely seen in American films.  Additionally Tarantino demonstrates that he knows his Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock said that the best way to get an audience to absorb exposition is to have a man enter a room, place a bomb under a table and leave.  Next have two other men enter the room and sit down at the table.  The audience will listen to every word these men say.  Tarantino uses this device literally and figuratively throughout and it works like a charm.  The film consists of five titled chapters all of which deal with plotting against, and/or the danger of being found out by, the Nazis.  The scenes are tense and the language crucial.  What a person says and, most importantly, how they say it, particularly their accent and gestures, can give them away.

The cast of heretofore unknown actors puts the story over with panache.  In addition to Laurent, Christoph Waltz plays Colonel Hans Landa.   Landa, a compelling villain, is a Nazi who, with genteel pretence, enjoys spinning his web as he toys with people on whom he knows he has the goods, especially in a harrowing opening interrogation scene not to be given away.   He is truly the man you love to hate.

Historical fiction always, at some point, has to conform to the historical facts of the situation.  Here Tarantino comes up with a solution that is simultaneously absurd, bold, and surreal.

Some have said that the film’s humor is inappropriate in such a serious context.  I say Tarantino’s heart is in the right place.  “Inglourious Basterds” is not for the faint of heart, especially if seeing people scalped makes them faint.

“Inglourious Basterds,” director Quentin Tarantino, 2009,

Weinstein Company, 153 minutes, R



About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on September 4, 2009, in Now on DVD. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Very interesting review…

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