Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Josh of JJames Reviews. He’s already done a review of Apocalypse Now (which you can read HERE). Thanks so much for joining in, Josh! Now let’s see what he has to say about Inglourious Basterds, IMDB rank 113 out of 250…
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Written and Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Running Time: 2 hours 33 minutes
In an alternate history mash up, two different groups of assassins plot the murders of important Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler (Martin Wuttke) and Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth). Meanwhile, Hitler, Goebbels and Nazi detective, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) hunt The Basterds, a group of special forces assassins led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt).
Inglorious Basterds bears Quentin Tarantino’s trademarks, mostly in good ways. Using at least three storylines and an episodic chapter structure, it is always fun and suspenseful. Soshanna Dreyfuss (Melanie Laurent), Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) take turns as the film’s protagonist, and each proves capable of carrying the movie, in no small part because all three of the actors are spectacular. Waltz won an Oscar for Inglorious Basterds, and it is easy to understand why, but his is not the only award-worthy performance. This might be Pitt’s best acting since 12 Monkeys (1995) and Laurent shines, as well, especially when she’s opposite Waltz or Daniel Bruhl (Frederick Zoller).
Even still, the performances are not Inglorious Basterds’ greatest strength. Editing is. Tarantino and Oscar-nominated editor Sally Menke piece together the separate storylines sparklingly well, cutting away from each at exactly the right moments. Even more impressively, they time many takes and shots a heartbeat or two longer than we subconsciously expect, a decision that creates tension and heightens our anxiety. Consider the movie’s opening scene, when Landa arrives at Pierre LaPadite’s (Denis Menochet) home in search of hidden Jews. When the former first meets the latter’s daughters, he politely compliments their beauty, at which point Menke and Tarantino use a wide-angle shot from behind the young women, one that frames Landa’s face with the female’s bodies, thereby ensuring we see the intimidating glare the Colonel gives them. At that point, we expect Menke and Tarantino to cut away from the shot, probably to a close up of Landa, or perhaps LaPadite, but they don’t. Instead, they hold it an extra moment, just long enough to make us feel Landa’s threat. Later in the same scene, the Nazi is centered in the frame as he drinks a glass of milk. While he’s drinking it, we expect the director and editor to show us a reaction shot of LaPadite or one of his daughters. They don’t. Instead, they hold the shot of Landa until the milk is gone, a decision that once again increases our anxiety. Why? Because now we know that Landa can and will do anything he wants, that the LaPadite family is powerless to stop him, and that soon all of them might be dead.
Such brilliant editing continues throughout the movie. Menke lost the Oscar to The Hurt Locker, but she unquestionably deserved her nomination and would have been a fitting victor.
Tarantino makes other standout directorial decisions. Inglorious Basterds is visually striking, and the sound design is very good. So too are all of the director’s casting decisions. Daniel Bruhl is excellent as the flirtatious but frightening Frederick Zoller, and Michael Fassbender is scene-stealingly good as British soldier Lt. Archie Hicox. Diane Kruger (Bridgit von Hammersmark), Jacky Ido (Marcel) and Sylvester Groth (Joseph Goebbels) all give memorable supporting performances, as well.
With excellent acting, near impeccable direction and some standout technical elements, Inglorius Basterds has potential for perfection. Unfortunately, Tarantino’s screenplay is uneven. Yes his dialogue is witty and sometimes funny, as it is in everything he writes, but the way he tells this story fundamentally prevents emotional attachment to the characters, something that is all the more disappointing given each of the protagonists’ potential to be memorable. Shoshana is a tragic anti-hero if ever there was one. Raine could be, too. And Landa could be a complex opportunist, whom we never completely understand and therefore whose actions we cannot predict.
But instead, Tarantino chooses to gloss over his three lead characters, assigning each of them one or two traits, and never further developing them. Then, he introduces a bevy of minor characters, some of them historical figures and others not. He gives these secondary players as many traits as the leads, which guarantees that no one is well developed. That, in turn, means we do not care about any of the characters.
And so we do not extrapolate important life lessons from their experiences.
Conclusion: Inglorious Basterds, then, is a prime example of style over substance. It is entertaining and darkly comedic, just as it is incredibly well made. But, thanks to underdeveloped characters, it is not thematically resonant. Though we can enjoy it, we are not inspired by it.
My Rating: 7.5/10