Review: Inglourious Basterds

by Tom Ingram

More than six months after it came out, I finally got to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds. I had wanted to see it in theatres when it was released, but that didn’t work out. Interestingly, this came right on the heels of the announcement that Miramax, the studio that produced Tarantino’s first five movies, has been shut down. This was Tarantino’s first movie in a while, the last one being the 2007 flop Death Proof. It’s also the highest-grossing movie he’s ever made. But is it any good?

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I saw the trailer last year, it had me sold. Then just before the movie was released for real, when it was being shown at the Cannes Film Festival, I read that a few critics didn’t like it. After that, it sort of dropped off of my radar. I never got a chance to see it in theatres, and then I forgot about it until recently. So I was uncertain. But having seen it now, it was definitely worth it.

The film is uproariously funny. The trailer is great, but surprisingly that level of humour is kept up throught most of the movie, especially the scenes with the Basterds. Every moment Brad Pitt is onscreen is captivating. It’s not all humour, though. There are some good action scenes in there, and Tarantino’s trademark bouncing-around narrative makes the plot interesting. The movie is shown in five “chapters” which are in chronological order. The titular characters actually have a relatively small amount of screen time, and they aren’t explored in-depth. The film focuses more on Shosanna Dreyfus’ revenge plot. Still, more or less all we needed to know about Lt. Aldo “the Apache” Raine (Pitt), we learn in his first scene.

The movie is overwhelmingly good, but it does have its bad points. When I saw Pulp Fiction, I noticed that it tended to drag at times. Basterds has its share of long scenes of almost nothing happening. I could forgive Pulp Fiction, but in this movie most of the draggy scenes are in subtitled French or German, which only makes them more annoying. At first, the dragging on in the opening scene could be seen as a tension-builder, but ten minutes later it wears out its welcome.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Tarantino movie without horrific violence, which Basterds has in spades. You know in the trailer, when he talks about scalping the Nazis? Yeah. They actually show that. Lt. Raine has a nasty habit of carving swastikas into the foreheads of the ones he doesn’t kill, and his friend Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) (aka “The Bear Jew”) likes to beat their heads in with a baseball bat (watching it is the closest they get to going to the movies). Now of course, watching this, part of me was disgusted at the graphic violence, which put the Basterds on a level with the Nazis themselves. One of the soldiers Sgt. Donowitz kills in his trademark fashion is a sergeant who simply refuses to give up his comrades’ position. His only crimes were being in the same place as the Basterds and not endangering the lives of his fellow soldiers. It puts the Basterds’ antics in an uncomfortable light. But again, Tarantino flick. We’ve seen all the movies about the Nazi atrocities and the horrors of the Holocaust. We’ve seen movies that can be summed up in three words: “war is hell”. Just this once, I think it’s OK to enjoy without overthinking a movie that’s about one simple thing: killing Nazis.

I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say it’s not historically accurate. It’s extremely satisfying and exciting, at any rate. About halfway through the movie, I realized to my surprise that I had no clue how it was going to end. Tarantino’s oddball take on World War 2 may be the only movie in the genre that has that distinction.