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"Inglourious Basterds"

Directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Written by Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth and Mélanie Laurent.
Release Year:  2009
Review Date:  8/21/09


"Inglourious Basterds" has nothing to do with the 1978 original "Inglorious Bastards"...which, is a good idea.  Although that film was a B-level action film following five Americans who take it to the Nazis alongside members of the French Resistance, Quentin Tarantino took his sweet time crafting an update and what an update it is.

The new "Inglourious Basterds" couldn't be any different from the original:  an OSS team of eight soldiers, led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), is sent into Nazi-occupied France to conduct Nazi assassinations and ambushes in order to strike fear into the hearts of SS soldiers.  Their trademark?  Scalping Nazis.

That's right--scalping Nazis.

Meanwhile, an SS investigator nicknamed "The Jew Hunter"--Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz)--is moving slowly throughout France to uncover Jews in hiding; when we meet him, he has just taken out a family of all but one Jewish dairy farmers...the woman that escapes, Shoshanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), later has the chance to help the Basterds in their fight against Hitler.  And, for good measure, the British send in undercover agents in the form of two actors (Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger, from the "National Treasure" films) to help the Basterds by infiltrating a theater performance that may or may not be attended by high-end Nazi officers.  There's even an addition to the Basterds' crew in the form of Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger, who's played baddies in movies like "The Replacement Killers"), who has a penchant for losing his temper.

In other words, "Inglourious Basterds" is a big movie; like "Pulp Fiction", it has a lot going on with multiple characters but Tarantino is wise to not make the movie overly crafty is its sequencing or storytelling...the movie is generally straight-forward, without many surprises, and that's a good thing given how this plays out over the 150-minute running time.  Broken into five chapters, the movie wisely is really NOT about the Basterds; sure, two of the five segments feature them a bit more closely, but I think that decision makes Brad Pitt's part that much funnier.  His Raine isn't involved in the violence of the film (which gets nasty at times), but his quips matched with his Bobby Bowden-like hick stylings--imagine someone running through stories peppered with "natzee sum bitches", all while looking incredibly uncomfortable while talking--makes this instantly one of my favorite Pitt roles.  I'll be curious to see, come Oscar time, how the Weinstein Company pitches Pitt for awards, because the part is not onscreen enough for a lead role but maybe too much for a supporting role.

No matter--the man who instantly rises to the cream of the acting crop in 2009 is Waltz, with a dream part that takes advantage of the Austrian's ability to speak three languages fluently, all the while getting some of the best lines, the best movie moments and essentially the movie's common link throughout the five individual chapters.  In a movie about Nazis, you've got to be looking for something original, and Waltz has it in maybe the best lead part Tarantino has ever written.  (Yeah, I said it; even Uma Thurman in the "Kill Bill" films wasn't as interesting as Waltz is in this movie.  You might be thinking Sam Jackson or John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction", but in both cases, I never thought that those two were as scary--as hitmen, no less!!--as Waltz is in moments during this film.)

"Inglourious Basterds" is funny, violent, heavily subtitled, wacky (with trademark Tarantino soundtrack moments, or the re-imagination of history that keeps this "fictional yet unintentional" work fresh), and surprisingly tense.  I was surprised how long it took me to relax after watching the movie; scenes featuring death and destruction are done well here, but it's all of the scenes that feature more trademark Tarantino moments where characters talk for a long time, then people get shot/tortured/interrogated, that had me take a couple of deep breaths after it was over.  The film's opening chapter, when we first meet Waltz's Col. Landa, is very, very good and sets the kind of tone that left me excited throughout to see how things would end.

Where would I rank this one, in terms of Tarantino?  Assuming that everyone's favorite is "Pulp Fiction", I still think that "Reservoir Dogs" is second but I would move "Inglourious Basterds" into third.  For me, it was slightly better than "Kill Bill, Vol. I", somewhat significantly better than "Jackie Brown" and "Kill Bill, Vol. II" and way, way better than his career nadir, "Death Proof."  I think that "Basterds" sets up the director for a follow-up that might be his best work yet.  If anything else, he has wised up after all these years--for the first time, he doesn't appear or do voiceover work in a film he directed, which is a very good thing!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 08/21/09