January 23, 2015

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

"You probably heard we ain't in the prisoner-takin' business; we in the killin' Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin'." – Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writers: Quentin Tarantino

Producer: Lawrence Bender

Studio: The Weinstein Company (USA)

Major Stars: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger

In the genre of exploitation films, there are numerous sub-genres. The blaxploitation film, rape-revenge, splatter, sleaze...the different types seem almost endless. But one that hasn't been explored yet is the World War II exploitation film*.

That has changed. In Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds we have been given our first exploitation film covering WW2. And it kicks ass.

The multi-pronged story should be familiar to most of you by now. A unit of Jewish-American soldiers, led by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), are air-dropped into Occupied France to terrorize the Germans. They take scalps and bash in heads, the bashing courtesy of "The Bear Jew", Sergeant Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) and his bat. They even have a German soldier who murdered Gestapo officers (Hugo Stiglitz, played by Til Schweiger) in their band. At the same time, a cinema owner in Paris who happens to be a Jew using a false identity is forced to host a German film premiere attended by the Nazi hierarchy, which is targeted by an Allied OSS operation. And tying all these different stories together is SS Colonel Hans Landa, "The Jew Hunter", played by Christoph Waltz.

The title may say "Inglourious Basterds", but the story is Landa's. He ties it all together. Nothing in the story would happen (except for one scene) without his involvement. And Waltz plays him to perfection. He is smooth, polite, intelligent and deadly. The opening scene where a Jewish family hiding under the floorboards in a French farmhouse are discovered and killed by Landa's unit is some of the best film-making you will ever see. Landa is exceedingly polite to the French farmer, but you know from the first how dangerous Landa is. From beginning to end, no other character grabs your attention like Landa. Waltz won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for the role, and he deserved it. In a perfect world Waltz would have won the Best Actor award. That is how good Waltz is in Inglourious Basterds.

The sole survivor of the Jewish family massacred in the opening scene is Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), who becomes the aforementioned cinema owner. She is the second most important character to this film. Dreyfus puts the climactic scene into action, an act of Jewish revenge upon the Nazi elite that is stunning and beautifully shot. But it begins to make you wonder why Tarantino named this film Inglourious Basterds when they are, in many ways, tangential at best to the unfolding story.

This isn't to degrade their performances. Pitt chews a bit of scenery as Raine but is a very enjoyable character, one that reminded me more than a little of Lee Marvin's Major Reisman in The Dirty Dozen. Roth is obviously enjoying his role as Donowitz, even as he mangles a Boston accent**. And Schweiger's Stiglitz is memorable in the short time we get to know him. But by and large, the Basterds are mostly ciphers who appear only a few times before the film's conclusion.

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