INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS review
Inglourious Basterds rides into theaters on the heels of one of the most misleading marketing campaigns I’ve ever seen. Desperate for a hit, the Weinstein Co., and its founder Harvey Weinstein, sold the film as a modern day Dirty Dozen in an all out effort to ensure a solid opening weekend. Well, it worked with this latest film from director Quentin Tarantino scoring a very impressive $37.6 mil opening weekend. I really think its better to understand going in that this is not another Dirty Dozen but is is a pretty impressive film in its own right despite some flaws.
At a running time of 2 hours and 32 minutes, organized into five chapters, the film is too long (most notably the tedious chapter 4) but there is much to admire in this off the wall WWII revisionist revenge fantasy. Unknown Austrian actor, Christoph Waltz, gives an Oscar worthy performance as the story’s main villain, SS Nazi officer Hans Landa (known as the Jew Hunter). He should go down as one of cinema’s most memorable bad guys. It’s pretty impressive to hear him do evil in three different languages (there are subtitles a plenty). The man just has a mesmerizing presence on screen. Interesting enough, this role was rumored to be offered to Leonardo Dicaprio during the casting process. Nothing against Dicaprio but I just don’t think it would have been the same film with him in the part.
Landa’s introduction in Chapter One featuring a verbal cat and mouse game with a farmer who may or may not be hiding a Jewish family is stunningly suspenseful and shows that true evil comes in many shades. The character is written like a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Hannibal Lecter and Waltz is sensational in the role. In my mind this is the film’s very best sequence and it had me hooked right off the bat. In many ways a piece of classic filmmaking.
Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine and his elite team of Jewish-American soldiers known as the Basterds are introduced in the very good second chapter. While Pitts ‘Raine’ might come across as a caricature in the trailers he’s actually quite effective and well played in the movie even with his over the top Tennessee hillbilly demeanor. Eli Roth (director of the Hostel movies) who plays the baseball wielding Basterd known as the Jew Bear can’t really act but is still effective in the role that Tarantino originally offered to Adam Sandler. His dialogue is kept to a minimum so the character is more about presence than anything else. While Tarantino shows a few scalpings of Nazi soldiers by the Basterds, the violence is relatively tame by the director’s past standards. In many ways this work feels of a more mature nature.
Chapter three focuses on the character of Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) a French Jew whose family has been killed and now seeks revenge on the Nazis, specifically SS officer Landa who was responsible for the killings. She has inherited a movie theater in France, a plot point which sets up the excellent chapter Five. Dreyfus plays her role perfectly as you can feel her pain and anger in a slow burn type of performance. She’s also very attractive and likable and should have a bright future in movies. Her work is solid in this film.
The one problem I have with the film is Chapter Four as its way too long. So long that I started to feel that the movies wheels were falling off. It’s a perfect example of some of the criticisms against Tarantino for going overboard on extraneous dialogue scenes that don’t move his films forward and bore instead of entertain or advance story. In this chapter we meet Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a German film actress aiding the French Resistance. While this character is solid in her own right this segment is severely hurt by Tarantino’s dialogue choices. I felt a scene set at an underground Tavern where Nazi and resistance characters play a variation of charades had little to do with moving things along. It was not only unnecessary and painfully overlong but stopped the film’s momentum in its tracks. While the chapter does have a good payoff, I can’t excuse the time it took to get there. It not only tested my patience something fierce but knocked the movie down a peg or two. For my money this chapter was a failure.
Things get back on track with Chapter Five as everything that came before it comes to a head with all the leading characters, including Adolph Hitler (played over the top by Martin Wuttke), in attendance at a German propaganda film premiering at Shoshanna’s theater. This last section is some truly inspired filmmaking and quite impressive. This chapter is where you also get another layer of Landa’s reasoning for his deplorable and sub-human actions. Again, a great movie villain.
Overall I really liked much of the film except for 80% of Chapter Four which did hurt my overall assessment of the movie. Still, there is much to be impressed and entertained by and it’s well worth seeing. This is a case were suspense trumps action. 3.75 Zombies out of 5.
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