Inglourious Basterds—the Review

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Whether you find Quentin Tarantino an arrogant, over-rated prick raised to stratospheric levels by the worship of his zombie fanboys or whether you consider him Hollywood’s most stylish and original visionary, the main reason for either assessment is essentially the same.

And that is that Quentin Tarantino’s movies are about one and only one thing.

Himself.

In cinemascope and full technicolor.

Inglourious Basterds is no exception. It is pure Tarantino.   A tongue-in-cheek tribute both to the conventions of the war movie and also to B-grade revenge exploitation flicks (Tarantino’s favorite genre) “Inglourious Basterds”‘ is unalloyed Quentin in its shameless self-absorption.

Much of Tarantino’s work is characterized by his uber-geeky reverence of non-mainstream cinema and Inglourious Basterds is possibly the most egregiously  centered on the art of making movies than any of his previous ventures. Much of the dramatic action centers around a theater, imbued by the plot with the power of life and death over the protagonists. Rolls of film become a weapon in both the figurative and literal sense. Operation Kino, the plot to assassinate key members of the Nazi top brass,  is (I believe) taken from the name of one of the world’s foremost distributors of classics and arthouse foreign flicks.  A climactic scene takes place in the projector room. One of the heroic macho men is a film critic. One of the heroines is an actress. The basterds disguise themselves as film crew. And in an exquisitely choreographed pre-climactic sequence, the theater screen comes alive in a deliriously surreal vision of retribution, sure to take one’s breath away.

Most importantly however Inglourious Basterds is a testament to the power of the director to be all-powerful, as Tarantino uses the privilege of holding the megaphone to lovingly develop a character for an hour and them finish him off abruptly, to re-imagine and re-cast history the way He wants, to create fairy tales (“Once upon a time in Nazi Germany is how the movie begins) and to stamp himself on every scene, in essence becoming God in his own little reality.

But then you ask what’s so special about this movie? Kill Bill and much of Tarantino’s post Pulp Fiction work has been as self-referential and self-reverential as Ingluorious Basterds. However what distinguishes Inglourious Basterds from the rest is the masterful way Tarantino does three things.

First he sets up memorable characters. And none more special than “Jew Hunter” Colonel Hans Landa played with Oscar-buzz-worthy aplomb by Christopher Waltz. Bringing menace, joy, slyness and a touch of almost cartoonish evil, Landa is as divorced from the ” Ze Fuhrer” rather stupid (he always gets outwitted by the clever Allies) evil blonde stereotype of the World War 2 villain as one can imagine. He is not as dark as the Joker or as obviously mad as Hannibal Lecter. Col. Landa is different. It is his sunny disposition, of someone who takes so much child-like joy in his work that he just cannot wait to get up in the morning to smoke out a few Jews, which is what is disconcerting as well as fascinating about him. Doubtlessly well-acted but what really sets up the character’s menace is the way Quentin Tarantino gives him the small things to do: like filling up the pen with ink or enjoying the cream with desert and in the way Tarantino holds the camera on him for a few seconds longer on him so as to give us a look at the superior smirk that lights up his face as he pigeonholes his prey.

The secondary players (some may cringe at calling Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine as secondary) are also etched with the right amount of definition—through accent, inflection of voice and most importantly through humor. This is as good as it gets since the days of Jules and Vincent Vega.

Second Tarantino provides the conversations. What made Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction legendary were the character interactions—-profound and absurd but always compelling. In the midst of the visual pizzazz of the Kill Bill series and Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino neglected this conversational aspect to his craft  (with the exception of the fascinating Superman vs the rest conversation in Kill Bill 2). In Inglourious Basterds, Quentin sets that right. Visually as adroit as his other work (the vivid blacks, whites and reds in the conclusion of the movie look like panels from a gorgeously executed graphic novel), what sets this movie apart is the care given to the writing. As a result of this attention, the conversations between the characters, be it ruminations on the difference between a hawk and a rat or on the relationship between King Kong and American slaves,  not only contribute to character development but also to ratchet up the tension at crucial plot points.

Which brings me to the third. Where I believe the director gets it spot perfect. The pacing. Any man skilled in the nocturnal arts knows that the path to true pleasure lies not in hammering at a squirrel’s tempo but in the variation of pace—periods of  slow and languid to build up the expectation and then throwing in  bursts of frenetic action before a relapse into steadiness.

In other words, a single-paced approach is a road to disaster. Both in bed as well as on screen. Kill Bill suffered largely because it had just one pace. Namely super-fast.

In Inglourious Basterds, Quentin does things differently; giving the sequences time to slow-cook and simmer before allowing them to explode into orgasms of trademark ultra-violence.

Nowhere is the masterful pacing more apparent than in the opening sequence. A farmer is cutting wood when he sees a posse of Nazis arriving down the path. In an unhurried way, he tells his daughter to fetch water so that he may wash his sweat. He then asks her to go inside. Col Landa approaches him and they go together into the dwelling.  After asking for a glass of milk and making small chit-chat he asks the girls to leave, with exaggerated politeness, and then starts talking with the farmer. About this and that. Minutes tick by and slowly you realize that this is all leading to something. The tension rises. A cow mooes in the background. The camera moves to tight closeups in a style that is so obvious Sergio Leone. The Colonel brings out his comical pipe. It brings a bit of humor but its gone in a flash. And then when finally the denouement comes in a blaze of violence, you realize how everything in the languidly shot past fifteen minutes, every small detail, has been building up to this. Simply genius.

The comparisons with “Pulp Fiction” will be obvious. In a way, nothing can be compared to Pulp Fiction because it created its own genre and was so radically different in its narrative style, characterization and script than anything seen before in mainstream Hollywood that its impact will possibly never be matched by Quentin Tarantino. To put it simply, it is close to impossible to top a movie that has lines like this ” Character 1: Which one is your wallet? Character 2: The one that says bad motherfucker.” in terms of cool badassness.

But Inglourious Basterds comes close. Pretty darn close. So while one may not necessarily agree with Quentin Tarantino when in a gesture of  characteristic modesty, he says through a character: “This might just be my masterpiece” there is nothing that keeps you from standing up in your seat.

And accepting that of all the people sitting in a director’s chair today, there is no more glorious basterd than Quentin Tarantino.

[Photo courtesy XinhuaNet]

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58 thoughts on “Inglourious Basterds—the Review

  1. Quentin makes Shoshana say “in our country, we respect directors!”

    And the final dialogue by Pitt “This might just be my masterpiece”! seems like a pointer to him and this movie of his!

    PS: I am a ‘worshipping zombie fanboy’ but I did not like Death race!

  2. I am yet to see this one until it releases in india. But it looks like you are not big fan of kill bill. I absolutely loved that movie. Huge fan. Pulp fiction obviously takes the cake but KB was awesome too.

  3. Seems like Tarantino is paying tribute to Leone here. Long overdue considering the impact he has had on cinema.

  4. The opening scene which you described seems very much similar to the entry scene of Lee Van Cleef in “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

  5. hey..GB.
    Sorry for something Off topic.

    But your mail id is not visible in contact page.(Using firefox 3.5.2)

  6. Nicely written.
    How about trashing ‘mighty’ aussies for losing ashes to ‘weak’ england side.
    But you have to be quick, before everyone and his aunt has written about it. And it should be absolutely ripping. Destroying everything in sight.
    GB, one suggestion. Can u have a sort of free space on your blog where we can post messages to you, which are not related to your immediate post.

  7. actually, even if you at the superman vs the rest conversation in vol2, it is less of a conversation and more of a monologue. yes, i guess, Kill Bill did lack those conversations. in fact, i would say, Death Proof did better on the conversations front than Kill Bill.

  8. Sitting in India, I haven’t seen the movie. But going by the flourish with which this review has been written, I certainly know of one person sitting in the blogger’s chair who is an Inglourious Bestard
    Cheers

  9. In other words, a single-paced approach is a road to disaster. Both in bed as well as on screen. Kill Bill suffered largely because it had just one pace. Namely super-fast. – Greatbongness!!!

  10. “periods of slow and languid to build up the expectation and then throwing in bursts of frenetic action before a relapse into steadiness.”

    I can relate to that. I am mostly like that. In bed.

  11. Kill BIll 2 had another stunning piece of conversation…Bill expounding on massacre by the white lotus clan of shaolin monks…fire blazing…the “snake charmer” Bill plays the flute…”Black Mamba” listening with rapt attention.

    Really can you recollect a more capitvating monologue describing nothing but a silly schoolboyish story? Very stylized I feel.

  12. A flamboyant review in line with this most flamboyant movie that reveals GB’s expert insight into yet another topic. 🙂

    My dream is to see GB and QT to do a movie together which will pay tribute to the conventions of Bollywood with in-references galore.

  13. Cant wait to see it. Kino is also the german word for cinema. Operation Cinema could very well have been Tarantino`s pet name for the whole movie.

  14. Sanjay Gupta could have been our own Tarantino. If only he had Vishal Bharadwaj’s originiality. Not contradictory if you know what I mean. BTW, that link to your email id works for me on FF.

  15. Jules What does Marsellus Wallace look like?
    Brett What?
    Jules: What country are you from?
    Brett: What? What? Wh – ?
    Jules: “What” ain’t no country I’ve ever heard of. They speak English in What?
    Brett: What?
    Jules: English, motherfucker, do you speak it?
    Brett: Yes! Yes!
    Jules: Then you know what I’m sayin’!
    Brett: Yes!
    Jules: Describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like!
    Brett: What?
    Jules: Say ‘what’ again. Say ‘what’ again, I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say what one more Goddamn time!

    Ahhhhh, can’t wait for this movie..

  16. I’m awaiting for its release, and I know it won’t happen in India, but hoping to watch it and then maybe offer a point of view on this. But something that I’m pleased about that this film has got a great opening.

    And it gives Tarantino another lease of life to try something different form here on, just that I wish he does not keep on using the same mantra of making films.

    Another reason I’m eager to watch is that some of my favorite critics have definitely hated the film although it receive a good word from M Dargis at NYT

    Great write up, as always, dada.

  17. i happened to read the 168 page 1st draft of this film – and i was blown away – esp when i read the last line – which u have mentioned here. When i ended the reading – i knew it – people would dislike him for saying this so overtly – but then that 168 page script – i was so hooked that i started at 11am and dint do anythign in office till 3 30 pm… it was an awesome time.

    Looking forward to the release in India.
    Greatbong thanks for a wonderful review. “Pacing” – i will always keep in mind… cheers

  18. @GB,
    I think while talking about Kill Bill, it may not have had conversations that made viewers remember them as do some ones from Pulp Fiction but it did have ones that contributed to the fabric of the story that Tarantino wanted to tell. For example, the conversation between Bill and Beatrix that talks about an important lesson learnt by their kid about Life and Death.

    Apart from this one contention, I think you are right on the money about Basterds. I saw it this last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

    Spoiler Alert!!! – I especially enjoyed subtle differences between British and German nuances in the Bar.

  19. Loved the movie and the review. One correction (I am a stickler for names, you see, esp. if they are of actors and directors) – Landa is played by Christoph Waltz not Christoph”er” Waltz.

  20. your work is similar to Tarantino’s… quite self referential and p’raised’ to stratospheric levels by the worship of your fanboys along with your uber-geeky reverence to not-so-mainstream cinema.

    🙂

    P.S : I love reading your blogs

  21. The bad motherfucker constantly fucks with zombie fanboy and genre expectations. Those moments of uncomfortable silence right in the middle of rip-roaring laughters make driving to theaters on opening Friday night worthwhile.

    Kill Bill and much of Tarantino’s post Pulp Fiction work has been as self-referential and self-reverential as Ingluorious Basterds. However what distinguishes Inglourious Basterds from the rest …This is as good as it gets since the days of Jules and Vincent Vega…

    Rent Jackie Brown. Open a bottle of good scotch. Tonight. Please.

  22. Will our(Indian) Censor Board let the “B” word be and release the movie with an “A”?

    Yeah right….like they will.

  23. Ich kann es nicht verstehen, wie ein Regisseur Deutsch Hass durch ein Pseudo-kult Film wie diese fördern und aufstacheln kann,mit den gleichen Methoden Nazi-Direktoren in der Zeit des Dritten Reiches benutzt hatten, um Anti-Antisemitismus zu verbreiten..Komm Schon Leute!! Bitte lehnen diesen Film…

  24. You can use Google Translate to check up on my own given translation..So here it goes:

    I cannot understand how a director can encourage and incite German hatred through a pseudo-cult film like this, using the same methods like the Nazi directors in the time of Third Reich who used the film medium to spread Anti-Semitism

    Hope now you will post both of my comments…

  25. Well but lets not comicify (you get the meaning) recent history…But I was more looking forward to your review of District 9 ..I thought you would find that movie way more interesting than Inglorious Basterds..The way it reflects through aliens human beings’ repression, demonization of the “others”..and even how so called liberals and politically corrcts of the society look down upon them and patronize them …If its possible please do a review of that one too Love your Blog ..All the best

  26. In the midst of the visual pizzazz of the Kill Bill series and Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino neglected this conversational aspect to his craft. […]

    the variation of pace—periods of slow and languid to build up the expectation and then throwing in bursts of frenetic action before a relapse into steadiness. […] giving the sequences time to slow-cook and simmer before allowing them to explode into orgasms of trademark ultra-violence.

    The conversational aspect was surely of Tarantino standard in Death Proof, and that whole movie was nothing else if not the most perfect pacing seen anywhere, exactly as you describe. Its unbelievable slowness in the first half and again in the early parts of the second half, leaving the viewer impatient with unbearable anticipation…
    All this was cut out and irredeemably ruined in the travesty that was released as “Grindhouse”. One must see Death Proof only in its full form, even if it means missing “Machete” and the other trailers in Grindhouse. 🙂

  27. Saw the movie just now. And I have to disagree with your views on the film’s pacing. Yes, the opening scene is masterly but that is only due to Waltz’s brilliance. You see the Nazi monster emerge slowly from under the flesh of a kindly next-door German “uncle”. But this the only scene that stands tall(with obvious references to the old ‘Westerns’).

    Take for example, the lengthy scene at the basement of the tavern. It comes off as a massive dud. Because a) Diane Kruger, the center piece of that scene, is over the top. Zero subtlety.(“but this is a Tarantino movie”… is not a good enough counter-argument). b) A character from nowhere jumps into the scene. Why? whats his purpose? just to extend the rambling? to build tension? Sorry. But the mixture of incompetent acting, bunch of half-baked characters put in there just to be shot dead and 10 minutes of wothless rambling is a DUD.

    I don’t mean to say that the scene doesn’t serve the purpose but does it HAVE to be so long? Pacing is one thing. Getting repetitive is quite another. If you slow down, ramble on and then go kaboom every other scene aren’t you getting one paced?

    I believe this film dies because of that. The climax namely the important face-off between Handa and Raine is such a forced, rushed scene precisely because the plot had meandered so much to serve so little a purpose. I was imagining the encounter would be a stuff of legends…but disappointment.

    A German-Jew one-sided love story? Did it deserve so much footage? What was Mr. Mike Myers doing in the movie? Was he needed? If the film’s titled Inglourious Basterds, and if they are the fun part, how come they have so little a footage? Apart from Brad Pitt and 3 others how come there characters are so under-developed?

    ..and finally why is this compared to Pulp Fiction, where pacing never meant being predictable or the witty lines just kept raining down so fast that you bowed down in front of the screen and worshiped it? Why would my favorite director Mr. Tarantino let me down?

    Questions. So many questions

    ps: Its ironic that my comment is such a ramble. But can’t help it, I’m heartbroken.

    pps: Hans Landa is awesomeness!

  28. always enjoy your reviews great-bong.
    what most people miss to see is the phenomenal portrayal of languages in this movie. being able to speak all the languages occurring in the movie, i was amazed at the varied display of accents. Specially the german bits are full of double meaning words and associations. The germans speaking french in an old reichs accent and colonel landa’s short dialogue in italian is fantastic.
    Maybe it is the inability of non german speaking viewers to comprehend this potpourri of associations that causes anguish to ABvan above. The scene in the tavern is a absolute delight. The game with nicknames is masterly done.

    Christoph waltz (col landa) is known in the german cinematic world for his ability in acting the psycho maniac but he just triumphs in this one.

  29. Hi GB,

    Its a great review and fully agree with your comments. I am a fanboy of QT and have seen everything that he ever involved himself with, if even remotely. I loved Basterds and almost wanted the movie to play on forever – watched it on the first show. But I do not agree with your views on KB – its a masterpiece as well. The interactions between beatrice and vivica fox, the “regret” conversation betwween michel madsen and daryl hannah, and of course the life-and-death, pei mei and superman conversations between bill and beatrice.

    It was also his tribute to the spaghetti westerns and the martial arts genre so there had to be more action that normally is.

    Pulp fiction can never be made again I think – that is the only movie I would give a 10 on 10.

    In basterds, I would have loved to see more of the basterds and definitely more of the Apache..if I were to rate QT’s films, they would have to be:

    pulp fiction
    Reservoir dogs
    Inglorious basterds
    KB2
    KB1
    Jackie brown
    Deathproof

    If one includes true romance, since he wrote the script, then it will be above jackie brown.
    What would be your ranking.

    Lastly, it would have been better if you had not detailed out the opening sequence because people read your reviews a lot and a QT fan would love to experience everything first hand.

  30. great review…nice creativity in comparison w/ “nocturnal arts” …thoguht that was great….but think the scene in the bar was the climax of tarantino’s “art” in the movie and he blew his load in the carnage tht rightly deservingly concluded the bar scene w/ a bang…the last scene in the theatre sucked pretty bad…

  31. Movie was stylish as always, but when the torture scenes were being shown the audience was clapping. When you have the crowd cheering violent behavior, that’s not exactly a good sign. Until now I had seen QT movies at home so I was assuming others would cringe at the overt display of violence as well. In the theater, I literally wanted to turn back and say “What’s wrong with you, he’s cutting..”, well, don’t want to be a spoiler but you know what I mean..

  32. You’re right – Tarantino got his pacing and dialogue spot on after meandering a little for a few years. The only “problem” I had with Death Proof was in the sheer dichotomy between the 1st and 2nd halves. The setup and payoff could have been better edited. Palpable tension and tautness are hard to do with dialogue, but Tarantino does it. With the characters, with the music, with everything.
    Christ, I sound like a fanboy.
    Here, my favourite was how Tarantino paid complete homage to so many things so beautifully – Leone (as you pointed out), war movies (notice how even the titles change constantly), B-flicks (somehow the fiery end reminded me of Ed Wood) and so on. He couldn’t have put it better himself:
    “You know what gets you to Carnegie Hall? Practice.”

  33. OK. So this girl from Las Vegas, NV has articulated exactly my thoughts in her comment about the movie on the comment thread of Manohla Dargis’s review of the movie.

    http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/movies/21inglourious.html

    Christy Huntingdon writes:

    “Good A movie, unfortunately not an obvious Tarantino film.
    The movie was a very good “A” movie. It followed a lot of the rules for making successful films. In fact, I would rate this as one of the best A movies I’ve seen. If you’re looking for a film that will keep you guessing and keep your nerves on edge the entire time this is the film for you.

    What disappointed me about this film is that I am a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. If I hadn’t known going in that this was one of his films I never would have guessed it. I would have thought that the creator was witty and trying to be unique with his/her “A” film, but I wouldn’t have pegged it as a Tarantino film.

    The things this film had that were obviously Tarantino were: a few witty quotes, though not as many as his other films; some good and unique camera angles, though not as many as his other films; unique characters that weren’t as watered down as in most “A” films; the bits of gory violence that while unnecessary resembled Tarantino film making; also the way in which he coordinated some key scenes to unfold was a tip-off to Tarantino film making. There was a scene where he shows Goebbels and his “translator” being introduced and then cuts to a scene of Goebbels having sex with her bent over a table – very Tarantino.

    The things Tarantino usually does in his films that were missing in this film are: a plethora of witty and memorable quotes; three dimensional character development; lots of in-your-face violence presented in his own unique, theatrical way; lots of unique cinematography, camera angles, choppy “back and forth” between story lines; intimate background snippets on characters; deeper scene development.

    Overall the movie was a great one. I was disappointed because I was expecting a Quentin Tarantino film and got a witty and unique “A” film. It was as if Tarantino decided he wanted to make a big money “A” movie instead of his usual cult classic types. He tried to appeal to the masses instead of specifically appealing to his fans. He followed a lot of the rules to make a big money “A” movie and I’m sure left a lot of his fans disappointed. Though possibly gaining some new fans since this movie was easier to follow and far less complicated than his usual. There were definitely elements of his usual style in this film but it wasn’t unquestionably obvious that it was one of his. I wanted a bit more in-your-face violence, witty quotes, character development and unique scene structure. So overall, I was disappointed because I expected a Tarantino cult classic and got a “Tarantino on a leash” “A” film.”

    Pretty much my thoughts. I have watched it twice now. But the film is worth watching. The lady in red shot is Tarantino’s best singlar shot ever. The music as usual, is amazing.

  34. This movie actually can be made into very good theater. Tarantino the writer is always such a pleasure to read. I once watched Pulp Fiction intermittently, by reading portions of the script and then watching the movie, and it was just an unforgetable experience. Read the opening sequence of the script that I provided. Mindblowing. Any great playright- Shakespeare or T. Williams or Miller would have been proud to write a sequence like that. Infact in this NPR interview, Tarantino concedes that he imagines that the viewer is reading his script and not watching the movie.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112286584

  35. And no….this movie is not Pulp Fiction. :)Nothing can ever be Pulp Fiction. That was Tarantino’s Everest ascent. Any other mountain climbed, however high, will short of that height.

  36. Awesome movie and awesome review GB. Everything that was perfect about the movie was here. Just saw it last night and couldn’t help notice the amount of inspiration Vishal Bhardwaj has taken from QT.

    The conversations that you mention – eerily similar to the fab. conversation between Tope and Bhope in Kaminey? innit… In terms of the narrative, in terms of strong characters, VB has definitely taken a leaf or rather, flowers and seeds as well from QT.

    And when I finished watching the movie last night, I was thinking, no other director would have the balls to twist history in such a manner and come out trumps – I guess, he knows this and he revels in this fact. You’re darn right when u say – all his movies are only about one thing – Himself.

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