5-Word 365 #060 – Inglourious Basterds

I’ve been eager to watch this film for a long time. After missing it at the cinema, I waited patiently for a fully-loaded DVD to arrive on the shelf. And waited. And waited. Tarantino flicks demand the sort of treatment this format was designed for: commentaries, documentaries, featurettes… The works, basically. I have the 2-disc Special Editions of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown and I was hoping for something similar for this, but after all this time I just had to bite the bullet. Does the film hold up on its own?

Inglourious Basterds

More Fassbender and Schweiger please.

For those of you living under a rock the last three years: Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France, a young woman witnesses her entire family killed at the hands of famed Jew hunter Colonel Hans Landa of the SS before escaping. Three years later she has grown up to be Mélanie Laurent and now owns a small cinema in Paris which she inherited from the elderly couple who took her in. She is being unwillingly courted by a young German officer whose heroic deeds against the enemy have been made into a propaganda film. In an attempt to woo her, he asks Goebbels to hold the premiere of the film at her cinema. Initially repulsed by this idea, once she discovers Hitler will be attending she agrees, so that she can gather the Third Reich high command all in one place then lock the doors and burn the place to the ground. Meanwhile, a platoon of American soldiers (these will be the Basterds of the title) is on a mission to spread fear through the ranks of the enemy by torturing and killing them in the manner of the Apache. Scalping, mutilation and death ensue.

So does it hold up? Duh; it’s a Tarantino flick. This is the movie His Chin-ness has been talking up for over a decade before he even started rolling the cameras. This is the Chinese Democracy and Duke Nukem Forever of genre movies. And make no mistake about it: this is a genre picture. More Saving Pulp Fiction than A Bridge Too Far. I have no idea how closely the finished article compared to his original fever-dream, but it is a 2½ hour rampage through the accepted history of WW2 shot through with QT’s trademark wit and snappy dialogue, although since it’s a period piece it is by necessity a lot lighter on the Madonna references. Inglourious Basterds is not without its flaws though, so I’m going to look at this in two ways: what works and what doesn’t work.

I woke up to something just like this once. Shat myself.

Let’s get the problems out of the way first so that we can end on a high.

  • There’s just too much crammed in here. Tarantino’s best movies have followed multiple plotlines and they worked because those strands all complemented each other and fed into the larger story in an extraordinarily well-designed way, but with Inglourious Basterds he goes that step too far. I went beyond wanting to see more of each story and ended up feeling short-changed, particularly when it came to the Basterds. Here we have the title characters of the flick and half of them don’t even get a line. Any of the three main plots could have held up as a complete movie in their own right. In fact, this would have made an incredible trilogy; three separate movies that occurred over the same time period and occasionally danced around their companions. Can you imagine it? It would have been Tarantino’s Three Colours.
  • The ending. I’m sorry for offending anyone’s delicate sensibilities with this sentence but with Death Proof and now this, QT seems to have forgotten how to stick the ending. The Cap’n made me promise to mention this before things get hairy: since we’re talking endings here, the conversation is liable to get a bit spoilerific. I felt a bit let down frankly after all that build-up. (Almost) everybody died?! Landa helped kill Hitler then flipped at the drop of a hat?! It makes a little bit of sense that he be motivated by personal pride in doing his job more than ideology, but even so there was no real inkling of it, no foreshadowing, suddenly it just happens. It felt like a cheat.
  • Eli Roth. The man is not an actor. Sorry dude, but there it is.

The "Waltz for Sherlock" petition starts here.

So what works?

  • Hans Landa. Austrian actor Christoph Waltz can build a whole new career on the strength of his performance in this film. Simultaneously charming, seductive and terrifying, Landa is a glorious piece of work (except for that slight fumble at the end, but that was no fault of Waltz’s).
  • Every damn thing else, but especially Michael Fassbender and Til Schweiger. They should have been in the film more! I want to see the Archie Hicox movie, and a horror sequel where Stiglitz prowls through Hell killing the Nazis all over again. You know how awesome that would be, don’t even try and say otherwise.

Overall, Inglourious Basterds is a cracking film. The performances are (almost) all great, the script is hilarious and the action is top-notch. The farmhouse and the tavern scenes will remain as highlights for me for a long time to come.

I have a feeling this guy might do quite well for himself over the next few years.

Just one more thing though. If you haven’t already, you should definitely get a hold of Enzo G. Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards from 1978. Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson star as US Army soldiers who escape from a prison transport after an air strike and wind up accidentally involved in a French Resistance plot to steal Nazi hardware and get it back to the Allies without getting killed or locked up again. Other than the appropriated title and the WW2 setting, the two flicks have nothing in common but it is a great little film that at one point was re-edited as a Blaxploitation movie and renamed G.I. Bro! How can you not love that?

7 comments

  1. Miranda · February 29, 2012

    I have to agree with you on the faults in this one. It was really disappointing to see all this great potential with other characters, and sadly they got nothing. As far as the ending not really giving enough to the actual “Basterds” totally agree. I honestly thought when this movie ended, that the black would come back up and they would show a little bit more. Kinda sucks. However, as far as the good….Hans Landa….holy crap. I haven’t seen a character that I was that afraid of since Hannibal Lector. Every time he was on screen, I just wanted to squirm out of my chair. I especially loved this because I think it reflected the paranoia during WWII very very well. Loved your review, and totally agree.

    • Ryan McNeely · March 1, 2012

      Thanks Miranda. Good point about the paranoia of the times. Honestly that hadn’t even occured to me until you mentioned it, so I earned myself the first facepalm of March.
      I think Landa was so terrifying because he never went for the yelling. He was always so genial and conversational that it just filled me with dread for what he might do next.

      • Miranda · March 1, 2012

        Exactly! The only analogy I can think of (strange one I warn you) is when you get in trouble with your parents, and instead of yelling at you they just say “I’m just really disappointed” That sense of dread and guilt was always so over powering.

  2. Emie Faun · March 1, 2012

    I loved this film, and almost everything about it! It’s on of the films I reviewed, so I was eager to read your opinion.

    I quite liked the ending, personally, mainly because I had become so hooked with the ‘let’s kill everything’ theme that seemed to be going on. I had a massive adrenaline rush during the end scene, to my complete surprise!

    I do notice you didn’t comment on Brad Pitt’s performance, which is something a lot of people had problems with but I, personally, loved. I do wonder what you made of that.

    And lastly, yes, I agree, MORE FASSBENDER! Although he does die rather magnificently…

    Awesome review dude!

    • Ryan McNeely · March 1, 2012

      I would’ve mentioned Pitt, but I was already up to 1000 words and I really had to go to bed! (also, I kinda forgot. That’s the thing with doing this around a full time job: there’ll always be something left out) I thought he was great. He’s been playing “Brad Pitt” a lot in recent years and it was good to see him go a bit further out there, like in the 12 Monkeys/Kalifornia days.

      • Emie Faun · March 1, 2012

        Ah don’t worry about it, I forget things too. I’m doing the same sort of thing, doing this around my University course and work. But I’m glad you enjoyed his performance. He was easily one of the best features of the film

  3. Pingback: Tarantino XX Box Set: Inglourious Basterds Review | The Filmster

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s