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USA 2009
Directed by
Quentin Tarantino
153 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars

Inglourious Basterds

Synopsis: Lt Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) heads the Basterds, a commando unit of Jewish Allied soldiers waging guerrilla war against the Nazis in Occupied France. When word comes that Hitler will be attending a movie premiere in Paris, the Basterds, along with a multitude of other people with varying motives find their lives and missions entwining.

“Once Upon A Time In Nazi-Occupied France”, the title of the first of five “chapters” that make up this engaging and clever film says it all really. It alludes both to its fairytale nature as well as the Sergio Leone homage that is clearly evident in some of the scenes. It would probably have been a better title for the entire film in some ways, since the Basterds of the official title don’t figure until chapter two, and then figure in the rest of the film as background characters to a series of other stories, each just as beautifully crafted as the first.

Tarantino has a reputation for extreme violence and stunningly choreographed action sequences, but that’s never really been where his skills lay. Both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were more cinematic stage plays than what could be considered action cinema. So for anyone expecting an ultra-violent rehashing of The Dirty Dozen, the talky nature of this film is going to be a disappointment. But for everyone else, it’s going to be a distinct pleasure. Tarantino is still one of the best writers around, and his ear for dialogue remains well-tuned. The majority of the film is a series of scenes of two or more people sitting down and talking. They are some of the most tense and nerve-wracking scenes I’ve seen in quite a while. Gone are the pop-culture references, instead there’s a black humour at work as evil men play with their prey. The Nazis of Inglourious Basterds are not decent men who are deluded into doing horrible things. They are horrible men. Even when the Basterds beat them to death with baseball bats and scalp them, you might feel sorry for them for a moment but then some revelation will come that removes all sympathy. The opening scene, as SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) make polite conversation with a French peasant suspected of hiding a Jewish family, is a study in subtle manipulation and ratcheting tension. You’ve never seen Tarantino work the suspense angle of a scene like this before. Landa is a charming and evil man, likeable yet terrifying and Waltz deserved his Best Actor award at Cannes.

Tarantino has opted to have the French speak French and the Germans speak German. So get ready for a lot of subtitles. It’s an interesting device to use, but one that works exceptionally well. It adds to the sense of reality, grounding the film in its locations, as well as being the source of some inventive plot points.

When it all comes together at the end, it’s a very satisfying experience. For a film that’s as long as this one, there’s not a wasted moment in its entirety. It’s nice to have a new Tarantino film, even better such a focused and disciplined one. Inglourious Basterds is easily one of the year’s best films, a superbly crafted war thriller that is unlike any that have come before.




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