A Review of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS:
I walked into Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds expecting non-stop Basterd-style Nazi killing, over the top violence and borderline kitsch. Sure, there’s some of that, and an anachronistic use of a David Bowie song among other minor albeit forgivable annoyances, but what struck me most was that this was not just a story of Basterd scalping maniacs. This was also a story of a young Jewish woman named Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) hiding out in Paris under the guise of a cinema operator and her elaborate revenge plot against the bastard SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) who murdered her family. This is a story of a ballsy double agent parading as a German movie star (Diane Kruger) who risks everything for an operation to assassinate Hitler. And most memorably, and cyclically, this is the story of that ruthless SS Colonel Hans Landa and his inevitable comeuppance after he arrogantly and erroneously plays everyone as if he were the smartest man in the room. In fact, the whole movie hangs on his story arc. From the moment at the end of the opening prologue where Shosanna barely escapes from his overreaching grasp, we wait…ever so patiently…to see…in that final scene…Hanz receive his comeuppance. And Tarantino, in his signature chapter-stop style weaves in all of these stories and others and uses the Basterds (essentially as a McGuffin) as the comic relief.
By all measures, this is Tarantino’s best-looking film. Gone is that obsession with low-budget 1970’s style pastiche that often resulted in grainy photography and shoddy editing in earlier films, and instead, awash in the refined beauty of Nazi occupied France, is an impeccable production design, classy costuming and excellent cinematography from Robert Richardson. There is also an infectious music score that eclectically combines themes from B-level Westerns, classical music and German marches that is utilized perfectly to add pizzazz to scenes or ratchet up the tension.
The film benefits from uniformly fine performances. Make no mistake, Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Basterd Numero Uno Lt. Aldo Raine, with all his folksy bad-ass Smoky Mountain wisdom, is the comedic performance of the year. What makes it even more astounding is that it is delivered in what is an otherwise surprisingly serious film. Meanwhile, Tarantino’s ladies are as beautiful as they are devastating, with Diane Kruger sarcastically game and Melanie Laurent a cauldron of emotions waiting to erupt underneath a demure French veneer. Lastly, Christoph Waltz leaves a villainous impression as Hans Landa, and it’s easy to see him a lock for a Supporting Actor nod come Oscar time.
But of course there is all that waiting for the payoff, which comes, but not until after some totally unexpected turns that result from a basis in a demented little boy’s fractured fantasy version of WWII instead of fact. There are, however, nods to the propaganda from both sides spreading word of atrocities and “cameos” by an array of real-life “characters” from Hugo Stiglitz (well, not really, just a guy named after him) to Goebbels to Hitler.
With the pacing Tarantino builds the suspense by drawing out scenes in a sometimes tedious manner. He’s superficially akin to David Lynch in this regard. Whereas Lynch achieves this with his brooding, menacing visuals and camera work, Tarantino does it with seemingly endless scenes of dialogue. However, unlike his earlier work which was marred by blathering hipster nonsense that was only intermittently successful as entertainment, here the dialogue (though sometimes stretched way too thin) is at the very least plot driven and used to develop characters when it’s not thickened with his favorite pastime…film talk. There’s plenty here for film buffs to revel in, not just obvious visual homages to Spaghetti Westerns and past war films or winks to Henri-Georges Clouzot, but also discussions of German cinema (Pabst and Riefenstahl) and one very funny King Kong joke that will be sure to offend.
All of this makes for the most interesting, unexpected and unpredictable film Tarantino has ever made. While it still contains all of his nervous and obnoxious ticks, they’re kept in check, and it also displays a maturity that seemed damned near impossible for him to achieve after the pointless garbage-fueled Death Proof. He makes no grand statements about life or death or war with Inglourious Basterds, but he does make a statement about film. For Tarantino, our would-be cinematic dictator, and his legion of willingly enslaved fans, watching movies both glorious and inglorious is pure fascist joy. And if that makes you a Basterd…well, then so be it.
Written by David H. Schleicher
From across the blogosphere, people can’t stop talking about IB.
Here are some of the highlights:
- The best piece I have come across yet discussing IB’s merits, de-merits, meaning and intrinsic value has come courtesy of Joseph “Jon” Lanthier at Bright Lights After Dark in direct response to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s much ballyhooed assertion that IB is operating as “Holocaust Denial”.
- Our friends at Wonders in the Dark weigh in and give me a much welcomed shout-out.
- A startlingly ruminative piece on IB’s appeal is offered up by Jamie Uhler.
- Meanwhile, Sam Juliano decries IB’s sophomoric sadism.
- For some fascinating follow-up, I encourage readers to also pay a visit to the discussion going on about the controversy surrounding IB’s immorality at D. Cairn’s Shadowplay film blog.
- There has also been much talk of (and I will try to be as vague as possible so as not to spoil it for people who have yet to see the film) the “face in the smoke” image conjured by QT at the film’s climax. I think it’s the defining moment of his career. For some talk of that and more on people’s mixed feelings concerning the film, I encourage you to visit the discussion going on at the Dear Jesus film blog.
- And lastly and most astutely, Bob Clark over at The Aspect Ratio offers up a scholarly exploration of IB’s relevance and compares the methods of QT to everyone from Fritz Lang to George Lucas.
With this Comment Thread I am asking people to rank Quentin Tarantino’s films from Best to Worst.
I’ll kick it off:
Inglourious Basterds – 9/10
Jackie Brown (underrated) – 8/10
Kill Bill Vol II — 8/10
Kill Bill Vol I — 7/10
Reservoir Dogs — 7/10
Pulp Fiction (overrated, though it has grown on me over the years and my initial hatred of it has lessened) — 6/10
Death Proof (originally I gave it a 5, but what dreck it really is) — 2/10
Now it’s your turn! –DHS
Jackie Brown 9/10
Pulp Fiction 9/10
Inglourious Basterds 8/10
Kill Bill Vol.1 7/10
Reservoir Dogs 7/10
Kill Bill Vol. 2 6/10
Death Proof 5/10 — the second half is good; the first isn’t.
Basterds’ ranking is subject to revision after I see it again.
Hi, Samuel, thanks for stopping by and sharing your list. I enjoyed looking around your site…some very interesting films you discuss there. –DHS
Well David, I was no fan of this film, and found it terribly self-indulgent, tedious in many long sequence, overlong, and often just sickingly sadistic and off-turning. But you are with the majority here and have penned an excellent review defending your (mostly) favorable position.
Pulp Fiction 9/10
Kill Bill Vol. I 8/10
Kill Bill Vol. 2 8/10
Reservoir Dogs 7/10
Jackie Brown 7/10
Inglourious Basterds 4/10
Death Proof 3/10
Sam, I can totally see how someone would find IB tedius and self-indulgent…but aren’t all of Tarantino’s works this way? As such…I thought the tedium and self-indulgent style was kept in check here and in service of a wildly entertaining series of intertwining stories. I grant you, some scenes ran way too long. Also, I had expected more sadistic violence, and again…I thought Tarantino was almost tame in this regard, though by no means do I want to dismiss the sadistic violence on display in IB. –DHS
Inglourious Basterds – 9/10
Kill Bill Vol II — 8.5/10
Pulp Fiction – 8/10
Resevoir Dogs — 7.25/10
Kill Bill Vol I — 7/10
Jackie Brown — 7/10
Death Proof – 6.5/10
sorry, I just had to use halves, quarters and the such.
Jamie, no worries, I was tempted to do the same. Looks like we were both taken by Basterds. –DHS
I ‘am so sorry, but I can only place Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction on my list for now, but I plan to seek out the other titles to watch…“hopefully!
Reservoir Dogs — 10/10…Because it is a “neo-noir” do not you know…and a “film noir” icon is presence…actor Lawrence Tierney
Pulp Fiction – 10/10…The same reason as above minus actor Lawrence Tierney, but of course!
D.H. said, “Pulp Fiction -(overrated, though it has grown on me over the years and my initial hatred of it has lessened) — 6/10”
Ha! Ha! I ‘am so “happy” to read that your initial hatred for this film has lessened over the years…
DeeDee — the one thing about Pulp Fiction that always wins me over is Christopher Walken’s story about how a family heirloom (a watch) was kept safe from harm while imprisoned…one of the funniest “stories” ever told on film. The rest of the movie…eh…depends on my mood. –DHS
D.H., rating for Inglorious Basterds – 9/10 and Sam Juliano, rating for Inglorious Basterds 4/10…
Oh! No, now I ‘am “curious”>(as I rub my hands together!) because I want to find out if Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds (I altered Tarantino’s spelling of the word Inglourous…) deserve the 9/10 or 4/10 rating.
Therefore, I must seek this film out to watch once it is released on DVD…because I do not like going to the theatre please do not ask me why…I guess because I’am too busy painting!
David said,If she’s a Basterd…sign me up!
No comment…I noticed that some of your pictures looks as if they have been taken by a camera.
and I also noticed WordPress still have not changed my Gravatar yet…hmmm…hopefully, they will change it before the end of year.
DeeDee — I just try to find the best looking images, no camera involved unless it’s my photography posts. I think putting the images against a white background helps them look crisp…if that makes any sense. –DHS
King Kong joke was hysterically offensive, but not as offensive as Eli Roth’s performance:
Wow, that is quite the irreverent blog you have over there. I don’t even think I want to know what the hell that is you’re using for a Gravatar icon – HA! I too am sick of Roth…he has no business starring in or making films, but in all honesty I barely noticed him in IB. –DHS
Thanks for noticing. I try 🙂
Yes, I was taken by this film. It seems to me to say so much about loving movies, and the movie going experience.
It’s also incredibly interesting as ‘film as wish fulfillment’, or a film working on an entire cultures desires. That, to me, is an incredibly interesting idea. When Eli Roth, who’s Jewish, absolutely destroys Hilters face you understand how incredibly cathartic film (and art) can be for the maker, or for the audience. seeing this with others is most important.
Jamie, interesting spin. I also think it was cathartic because there have been so many WWII films where plots are foiled (take for instance Valkyrie) and in this one…well…I guess you already gave it away. I agree…the bigger the audience…the better. I saw this in a packed house Friday night. –DHS
Oops!…I was so “busy” laughing!…that I accidentally placed a “1”…where there should have been a (“!”)…
D.H. said, “DeeDee — the suspense is killing me! What is it changing to????”
An espresso coffee cup and some books…
I’m a big Tarantino fan so I’ve been wanting to see this. The only thing that puts me off is knowing his penchant for grpahic violence and the amount of scalping…not sure how uncomfortable it is to watch. I’m not at all squeamish but he’s one of those directors who prides himself in getting across just how much it hurts.
(I can’t even decide if I like Pulp fiction of Reservoir dogs best so no rating for me)
Katie, there certainly is plenty of graphic violence in IB, however, I felt QT actually held back. Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely not for the squeamish and I would never want my mother to watch it…but there’s a certain “reserve” on display in IB considering how over-the-top it could’ve been. Or maybe it was the pacing of the film that made it seem this way to me. It wasn’t “non-stop” but the ultra-violence was present in spurts. –DHS
David – Not having seen Inglorious Basterds yet, I can’t rank it, but here’s how I would rank Tarantino’s other efforts.
Pulp Fiction – 10/10 (I love it, regardless of how cliche or hip it might look to rate it this high)
Reservoir Dogs – 9/10
Jackie Brown – 8/10
After these first three, I can take or leave the others. The Kill Bills and Death Proof just never really interested me all that much. But those three I really like to love.
I’ll be back here on Thursday night for sure to add my thoughts after I see IB.
Dave, I’ve always wondered if I had seen Pulp Fiction in the theater, if I would’ve felt differently. I’ve seen every other Tarantino in the theater spare for Reservoir Dogs. We almost went to see it, I recall a big discussion with my dad (who was always very liberal with what he allowed us to watch) but at the last minute changed our minds — I forget what we saw instead…dear lord, was Stargate that year around the same time? I think it was. Hey, I was just a kid — ha ha. I remember then watching it after the Oscars the following year and my dad hating it, and I thought, “what was the big deal?” But little by little…it has grown on me, but I still can’t say I “like” it.
Looking forward to your take on IB! –DHS
Dave—well, you know me, I’m a Tarantino aficionado. Have been since that warm late Saturday night back in ’93 when I first watched RESERVOIR DOGS in my bedroom. I also saw PULP FICTION in the theater opening weekend in ’94 (and yes, STARGATE came out around the same time—long story as to why I remember that). So, here goes:
The Man From Hollywood (his segment in FOUR ROOMS)–5/10, I must admit, though, the whole movie is a guilty pleasure for me.
Kill Bill 1–6/10
Kill Bill 2–8/10
Death Proof–5/10 (though GRINDHOUSE as a whole gets a higher rating)
I reserve the right to make that higher. Jackie Brown was initially much lower after my first viewing but in later years, it really grew on me and I like its vibe.
Basterds, to me, is definitely a much more mature Tarantino. Like you mentioned, I’m glad he ditched his fascination with the ’70s grindhouse look and went with something else. I loved the music, reminded me of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Shosanna’s story was also Leone-esque (I’m thinking ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST). And he created an incredible amount of tension in certain scenes, especially that first scene. We all know where it’s going but still, it’s an edge-of-your-seater. Pitt was aces in it and Waltz’s Landa, I think, is on par with Ledger’s Joker as an insanely memorable screen villain.
My only problem with it is that, ever since PULP, I’ve felt that Tarantino’s desperately needed a script editor. The scene in the basement bar, while it had a great ending, was much too long, and its length really sapped the tension for me. This may change upon another viewing, but I remember feeling exhausted by the time that scene ended. And, I think everyone’s in agreement that Eli Roth should never act again. I also think he should never direct again either, but that’s just me.
Overall, I think BASTERDS is a cult classic in the making and rightly so.
Wow, I do go on, don’t I? That’s what talkin’ Tarantino does to me, I guess.
Chris, I’m glad to see we are eye to eye on Eli Roth. Frankly, if his acting in films keeps him from directing films, that might be a fair trade…but, yeah, he really shouldn’t be doing either. The one thing I always like about Tarantino is, love him or hate him, he always makes films “to talk about.” –DHS
Just got back from seeing IB and just thought I’d jot down a few thoughts. I guess on first impression, I’m kind of in the middle in regards to the film. It’s certainly bloody and gory, but the violence doesn’t really bother me, particularly considering the context of the film. That being said, the movie (and by this I guess I’m saying the dialogue) was nowhere near as funny as I expected. Outside of Brad Pitt, there wasn’t any of the dark humor that I expected based on parts of Pulp Fiction and similar efforts. There were definitely moments (I loved the part where they’re pretending to speak Italian), but not as many as I would have liked for a 2 1/2 hour movie. It felt at times like I was watching scenes/sequences that were meant to be humorous but just weren’t for me — although, for others in the theater, they obviously were.
This might sound like me being extremely harsh, and to a certain extent I guess it is, because I was hoping to like this one as much as I do Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. I _did_ like it, but it failed to live up to expectations that I had built. Right now I would probably rate it 7/10, squarely behind Tarantino’s first three movies.
Dave, after having watched it a second time, I don’t think (spare for the obvious Pitt/Basterd-related comic relief moments) the film was supposed to be funny. Interesting, you seem to share the same initial mixed feelings as Chris above and others who adored Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. I was never a huge fan of those films, so maybe that’s why I liked this different kind of Tarantino film more so than the Tarantino traditionalists. –DHS
Inglourious Basterds 10/10
Pulp Fiction 10/10
Reservoir Dogs 9/10
Kill Bill Vol. 1 8/10
Death Proof 7/10
Kill Bill. Vol. 2 7/10
Jackie Brown 6/10
Hmmm…interesting list here, Brad — Death Proof above Jackie Brown, eh? –DHS
Thanks, for the additional links…to the blogs that were discussing QT’s IB… By the way, I ‘am familiar with some of the blogs that you, have linked and others you, have “introduced” me too…for the first time.
I must admit I like reading your review of Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglourious Basterds too!
DeeDee — I would’ve been amiss to not include links to some of the great discussions going on out there about IB! –DHS
I won’t assign numerical ratings to my rankings, as they’re too close to differentiate where it counts. I think there’s a three-way tie right now between PF, JB and IB in my book. I used to view Pulp Fiction as a delirious gimmick, but recently I’ve seen a great deal of character development in all those pointless conversations. Jackie Brown is still his most mature work, and it takes a ballsy talent to take the work of Elmore Leonard and start changing lines and characters around and somehow the damn thing worked brilliantly.
Inglourious Basterds though strikes me as the only film in QT’s canon that uses its genre quotations in service of something. Rosenbaum said in his review of PF way back in the day that QT, like De Palma and a handful of other directors, simply quoted for the hell of it where people like Godard took references and approached them from different perspectives. I thought Tarantino did that all over the place here: his mass appropriation of sphagetti Western shows reflects the deeper Western theme of the film, in which Raine is an idiot version of Ethan Edwards and Nazi-controlled Europe is the corrupt law of the East. I also got a kick out his cheeky take on New Wave ideals (cinema literally used as a weapon). Plus, the ending slaughter wasn’t sadistic but moralistic, and to this viewer the best juxtaposition between cinematic violence and audience reaction since Peeping Tom. I actually found so much more to love about the film that I had to write a second review to complement a short version I originally penned for my school paper and its ghastly 500-word limit.
Ranking the rest, though, is simple:
4. KB Vol 2
5. Vol. 1
6. Death Proof (Grindhouse cut)
7. Reservoir Dogs
8. Death Proof long cut
If you count True Romance like I do, I put it at no. 4
Jake – yuppers. IB was all kinds of “something else”. Just watched it for the third time and still enthralled. And TRUE ROMANCE — one of the few watchable Tony Scott films — BADLANDS meets NATURAL BORN KILLERS (before NBK, right?) — good of you to mention it. –DHS