MONKEY REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds

August 22, 2009

inglouriousbasterdsWriter/director Quentin Tarantino has been talking a long time about making his own World War II opus, well over a decade, amping up expectations among his fans, perhaps to the point where no movie he produced could have possibly met them. The audience I saw Inglourious Basterds was certainly receptive to it, if not overly enthusiastic about it, though it did earn some applause when the credits rolled. I asked a fellow moviegoer what she thought of it and she replied, “Well, it was Tarantinoesque.” At first, I thought this was a strange thing to say, as all movies that Tarantino directs are going to be inevitably Tarantinoesque by virtue of the fact that he is directing them, but maybe that’s not exactly what she meant to say. It might have been that Inglourious Basterds is simply the kind of WWII movie you’d expect from him, with not a lot of surprises if you’re well acquainted with his body of work. It’s not really even a WWII movie so much as it is about movies about WWII, and on top of that, it intentionally evokes spaghetti westerns, from the opening frame and first note of music on. The story is a riff on both Enzo G. Castellari’s 1978 WWII movie Inglorious Bastards (itself a riff on The Dirty Dozen) and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West, and opens with the movie’s best scene: A Nazi hunting down Jews in France, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), arrives at a French dairy farm to question the head of the household about a Jewish family that has been unaccounted for. Without giving away too much, Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a member of the family Landa is looking for, comes away from the experience with a motive for revenge. As Waltz plays him, Landa is charming, polite and utterly evil, one of the most startling cinematic villains since, well, Henry Fonda as Frank in the aforementioned Leone movie. Whenever Landa is onscreen, the movie suddenly has the kind of gravity and tension it otherwise sorely lacks. The next section of the movie introduces the Basterds, a select group of Jewish-American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) whose mission is very specific: “We’re gonna be doing one thing and one thing only – killing Nazis,” which they proceed to do in ways designed to terrify and intimidate Nazi soldiers. Eventually, these two story lines intersect at a movie premiere at which many members of the Nazi high command will be in attendance. I liked the movie and I was one of those applauding at the end, but it worked for me less as a whole, and more as a series of three quite excellent set pieces, the opening scene, a scene at a German basement bar, and the climactic scene. The rest of the movie isn’t quite filler, but neither is it on par with these scenes, so it’s definitely a movie with its peaks and valleys, though fortunately those valleys aren’t very deep. Inglourious Basterds is perhaps not the ultimate WWII movie Tarantino fans might have been expecting to see, nor is it anywhere close to being his masterpiece, but it does contain some unforgettable moments and it is mostly a lot of fun to watch. It will probably still be a lot of fun to watch again, too, which I will inevitably do.

MONKEY RATING: TWO INGLOURIOUS MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

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