FlixChatter Review: Inglourious Basterds

Ok, 2 down, 10 more to go. As I mentioned in my Oscar nom musings, I’ve got twelve movies to catch up on by Oscar time (both nominated for Best Picture and those that feature Oscar-nominated performances). In the past 2 weeks, I finally caught this one and The Hurt Locker, here’s what I generally think of it.

Since the movie is divided into five chapters, I thought I’d break down my review into five main parts just for the heck of it. Now, I’m not hugely familiar with Tarantino’s work, nor did I know much about his movie influences as this LA Times article pointed out. I have no qualms with him ‘borrowing’ certain aspects from obscure or foreign movies, as long as he’s able to make those scenes his own with his own actors and approach/style, which is exactly what he did in this movie.

Before I continue, here’s the plot:

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as “The Basterds”, led by Lt. Aldo Raine, are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis.

PART I: The Story

Before I saw this I expected it to be an ultra-violent anti-Nazi flick, a revenge fantasy with Tarantino’s brand of panache and style. Well it was all that indeed, but it’s also so much more. The Basterds are absolutely hell-bent on revenge, but there’s more to the story than what Lt. Aldo (Brad Pitt) and the gang are up to. Their mission is cleverly interwoven with the story of Soshana Dreyfuss (Melanie Laurent), the sole survivor when his family was ambushed early on. There are many layers to the story, one knotty predicament after another — thanks to the shrewdness of Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz) — keeps on unfolding until it builds to a gratifying climax.

PART 2: Direction

It’s quite obvious that Tarantino must’ve paid homage to old-school film-making style in the opening sequence. It’s a long continuous shot of just two people – a French farmer and Col. Landa – conversing. That scene runs for a good 10-15 minutes with the camera focusing between the two characters and not much else, yet the dialogue (switching from French to foreign-accented English) and the expression of the French farmer  is immensely tense. This is one of the three segments of the movie where I literally had to get away from the room and distract myself in order to calm my nerves. Of course after my husband assured me it wasn’t “that bad” that I came back and he re-wound the scene for me to watch. It’s an absolutely brilliant opening sequence that pretty much establish Christoph Waltz as one extraordinary actor. I was in for a surprise how much dialog-centric the script was, not so much a gore-fest merely to satisfy fans of the Saw franchise, despite Hostel director Eli Roth’s involvement. Yet, even the more talky scenes are so charged with suspense that my every nerve was stretched to its snapping point.

PART 3: Acting

The marvelous Christoph Waltz

There’s no doubt that Christoph Waltz is a revelation in this movie. He practically steals every single scene he’s in, he’s got that delicate combination of being comical yet deranged, a Nazi Patrick Bateman, but with less affinity for business cards surely. Many times during the movie I actually stopped and marveled how good his performance was, and the Austrian actor’s  knack for languages is even more mind-boggling, such a talent that’s as potent a weapon as any rifle. I could write an entire post on him the way I did for District 9‘s Sharlto Copley, he really is that good! According to NY Times, the Tarantino admitted “I knew Landa was one of the best characters I’ve ever written and probably one of the best characters I will ever write” and  thus “I literally had to consider I might have written an unplayable part.” Without Waltz, Tarantino might’ve given up making this movie and I agree, under less capable hands, Col. Landa would’ve been nothing more than a sadistic caricature villain. No wonder he’s nabbed just about every award given out this year, with last night’s BAFTA being the latest, and he’s definitely a shoo-in for Oscar.

Besides Waltz, the rest of the cast is also terrific. It’s no secret that I’m not a Brad Pitt fan, but he actually suited his character perfectly. Just like Ben Affleck, he’s got a real gift in comedy as I liked him more here than his more serious roles. Diane Krueger proves she’s more than a pretty face here, but it’s French actress Melanie Laurent that truly stands out to to me. Her scenes at the restaurant is such an exquisitely-controlled and affecting performance, her expression as Col. Landa finally leaves the room is one that stayed with me for a long time. She’s definitely overlooked in this year’s award season. Major eye candy Michael Fassbender is fantastic here and his bar scene is soooo full of suspense. LOVE a man in uniform and he definitely looks great in one. German actor Til Schweiger is quite good as one of Basterds’ allies, oh, even Mike Myers has a pretty memorable cameo.

Diane Kruger and Michael Fassbender

PART 4: Accent, accent, accent

If I wrote this post about movie accents after seeing this movie, I’d have listed it as one of the best examples of using subtitles. The way a person speak is an integral plot point here so naturally the actors have to pull off the various accents believably. I really enjoyed listening to the different languages spoken here (most notably by Mr. Waltz who speaks French, German, English and Italian fluently), it makes the movie all the more richer and adds a tinge of ‘foreign film’ flavor to it. Accent truly becomes a matter of life and death during the meeting point of “Operation Kino” at the basement of a French tavern, it’s one of the most nerve-racking and violent scenes in the movie, but the dialogue is absolutely to-die-for. Best movie sequence I’ve seen in a long time!

PART 5: Other observations: music and costumes

1940s costume is utterly fabulous!

The music is as quirky as the film itself. It doesn’t exactly fit the period but it certainly fits the scene and when put together, it just works. I mean, you’d never think of pairing renowned composer like Ennio Morricone (Cinema Paradiso) with cuts from David Bowie, that’s exactly what Tarantino did. This L.A. Times blog wrote about the method of how the Tennessee native went about choosing the right song for a particular scene, and how unlike other directors, he doesn’t work with a songwriter to custom-made a song for his movies, “… he handpicks each song and painstakingly injects them into scenes instead of simply hiring a music composer to do the work.”

Tarantino also pays careful attention to the beautiful costumes in his first period film, as costume designer Anna Sheppard said in this interview. The fabulous 1940s fashion provides a nice distraction from all the violent scalping and shooting scenes, there’s almost a Cinderella moment (with a nasty twist of course) with Col. Landa slipping on her pump on Bridget von Hammersmark’s delicate foot. The red dress that Melanie Laurent wore at the pivotal night at the cinema is almost as memorable as her iconic performance.

All in all Inglourious Basterds is a glorious film that truly exceeds my expectation in many levels. If you have reservations about this as you’re not really a ‘Tarantino fan’, give it a chance. Trust me, you’d be glad you did.

What are your thoughts of this film?

24 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Inglourious Basterds

  1. PrairieGirl

    I was very surprised how much I liked this film considering the subject matter. The plot, the acting, the dialog, the settings, locations, and scenery, the costumes, the languages – everything was superb! (except for the name of the movie – that could have been better.)

    1. Glad you liked it, PrairieGirl… since I was egging you on to see it, I was real curious to see what you think. This movie was such a pleasant surprise and totally worth the hype, which is nice since a few movies I saw recently that were critically-acclaimed didn’t really blow me away. Yes, superb on many levels, but especially the dialog!

    1. Thanks Castor. Now that I’ve seen this and The Hurt Locker, I am totally rooting for this one hands down! Truthfully, I’m not sure why THL got such a high praise, it was all right but not spectacular. IB on the other hand is refreshingly innovative and just plain awesome.

  2. I still can’t believe Melanie Laurent was snubbed and did not even get an Oscar nomination. And Diane Kruger was so delicious she went under the radar.

    1. I know! I thought she was phenomenal here. Kruger was good, too, but miss Laurent was the better of the two female performers. But then again, I think people were all blown away by Christoph’s performance, and rightly so.

  3. Mike B.

    Fab review! It’s interesting the differnt approach QT took with his war movie compared to that of Spielberg or Eastwood’s takes on WWII. IB is a complex film, very non-traditional. I loved the fact that there wasn’t a BIG CG battle scene in the entire film. Bravo!

    1. Yeah, I thought there’s just something so ‘fresh’ about this movie as Nazi storyline’s been worked to death in Hollywood. But somehow QT can add another ‘layer’ if you will and just the way it’s shot is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Bravo indeed.

  4. What I loved about Inglourious Basterds was that it had enough Tarantino to appease his fans (myself being a huge one), but strayed enough from his typical work to attract a more broad audience. I loved it. I would be happy to see it get Best Picture, but with Avatar and Hurt Locker I don’t think it will happen, and understandably so. All three movies are brilliant.

    1. Hi Heather, good point there about IB being satisfactory for both QT fans and the broader audience. I fall into the second category as the only other work from him that I like is Pulp Fiction. But my hubby and I are now curious to see Kill Bill since we’re so impressed with IB, but I think I’d have my eyes closed a lot 🙂

      I’m definitely rooting for this to win Best Picture, and my second choice is Avatar. Can’t say the same about The Hurt Locker, I just posted my take on it this morning.

  5. Julie Tan

    I love the movie! I hope they win the Oscars!!! The script was so witty and the storyline was suspenseful! I like the fact that every star had an equal part in the movie and it’s not all about Brad Pitt!

    1. You know, I was even more curious to check out IB because you told me you loved it at that bakery, remember? I didn’t think I’d love it as much as I did, but yeah the script, direction & Christoph’s performance is just unbelievable! And yes, it’s a good thing Pitt didn’t have too many screen time in there, he..he.. would’ve loved to see more of Michael Fassbender (Lit. Archie) though 🙂

  6. Marc

    Without a doubt, it is QT’s best work to date! A fantastic story from start to finish and Fassbender is equally as amazing as Christoph Waltz. Also Mike Meyers was a surprise as was Rod Taylor…of all people:)

    Funny thing, in the theater I didn’t really notice reading all the subtitles. But when I got it for Christmas and watched it, I found myself saying, “Damn, this is a lot of subtitles”:P

    I just adore this film!!

    1. I take it you’re a QT fan, Marc? I don’t watch a lot of his movies, but I’m glad I saw this one. The beauty of this flick is that everyone is perfectly cast, down to the couple-minute cameos! QT definitely made the right choice in having the actors speak in various languages + using subtitles, this flick could almost be a study in linguistic in film… as the dialect is such a crucial plot point. Love Brad Pitt’s pronunciation of ‘Ay-talian’ and the look on the Basterds’ faces when Col. Landa starts speaking Italian to them. Pure cinematic awesomeness! 🙂

      1. Marc

        Funny you ask because I am not really a QT fan at all. I’ve never seen Jackie Brown. Kill Bill I & II didn’t do much for me, Deathproof could have been sooo much better and I hate Reservoir Dogs…

        The only one I can stand is Pulp Fiction but it has taken quite a few years to get there. Regardless I just LOVE Basterds…an anomaly you say? Sure is!!

  7. Ted S.

    I was so excited to see this film after reading the script and it didn’t disappoint one bit as oppose to Django. Pulp Fiction is still my favorite film of QT but I might change my mind once I watch it again soon. I think QT gets a lot of bad rep because so many thought his films are violent, I mean his most violent films were Kill Bill 1 and maybe this one and that’s it.

    I think you’ll enjoy Kill Bill if you haven’t seen it yet, the first one was violent but the second was very tame and a better chapter in my opinion. Then again it was meant to be shown as one film, QT’s been saying he wants to release the full edition someday, still waiting for it. I recently watched Jackie Brown again, haven’t seen it in years and wow I forgot how good that film was. It’s probably his least violent film, in fact it hardly have any violent scenes in it, great acting by everyone and love the plot.

    1. Hey Ted, thanks for reading my old review. Yeah I love this movie, and I’m glad it’s Waltz that got the lead role instead of Pitt. He’s just brilliant!

      I did see Kill Bill Vol. 1 and enjoyed it, haven’t got around to seeing Vol 2 yet. I’ve been curious about Jackie Brown as everyone seems to love it!

  8. “A Nazi Patrick Bateman, but with less affinity for business cards” … that is a classic line! I loved this movie. I was impressed by the dialogue … as only Tarantino can write it … and by the balance between imaginative alternate history and staying true to the spirit of the time period.

    1. He..he.. thanks! I don’t know why he reminded me of Bateman, but I think despite his craziness, Landa is still not as repugnant a character. The dialog is indeed impressive, I think it’ll remain as my fave QT film.

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