Summer Blockbuster Friday #12: ‘Inglourious Basterds (2009)’- Throwback Review

If you remember going to the movies in the summer of 2009, does it feel right to say it was one of the most disappointing summer movie seasons it has given us? Because there were certain anticipated films we were very excited about, but most of them fell hard on the concrete. Just released a week after the surprising sci-fi hit District 9, we have to thank mastermind writer/ director Quentin Tarantino for delivering tremendously on Inglourious Basterds in saving what was a dreadful time and making a great film once again.

What’s the Story: In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, it was a dangerous time in history where Nazis are exterminating Jews left to right. First Lieutenant Aldo “The Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt) leads a special unit  of Jewish-American soldiers called “The Basterds” behind enemy lines for one thing and one thing only: Kill Nazis. He and his men join forces with German actress and undercover agent Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) to take down the Third Reich and its leaders, including one SS colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), while young Jewish cinema owner Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) has a plan of her own to blow up the Nazis when a propaganda flick, “Nation’s Pride,” is to have its premiere at her theater in Paris.

Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, and B.J. Novak in Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Many people’s first film from Tarantino might’ve been 1994’s Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill Vol 1. and 2. For me, Inglourious Basterds was my first, as I had seen nothing from his filmography before then. This had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and it first received some mixed reviews from the crowd? Huh? Nearly all of his movies aren’t for everyone, but come on. I missed this in theaters and saw Robert Rodriguez’s, his buddy, forgettable family flick Shorts the same weekend. Was I that much of a wimp when I was 13? But I rented it from Blockbuster almost a year later, and I didn’t finish it. Why? Maybe I wasn’t familiar with dialogue-heavy scenes the director is known for, along with the graphic violence I was a little turned off by. Luckily, I watched it in-full the next year when I got it from the library to see if I can get through it, and I couldn’t believe it took me this long to witness this thrilling piece of work.

We’ve seen many World War II movies before. But have we ever seen it through the perspective of Tarantino? I don’t think so. He has been working on this script for over a decade, as this is loosely based on Enzo G. Castellari’s B-Movie “Inglorious Bastards” in 1978, but couldn’t think of a conclusion. Much like Kill Bill and with his next feature Django Unchained, he loves his movies focusing on the theme of revenge, which is a pleasant blend into making history differently. Anyone who’s looking to get a history lesson out of this won’t be expecting to see Jewish soldiers taking Nazi scalps and kill them with bullets. If only my high school history classes own this. His direction is beautiful when handling scenes that take time to never have our attention span go aware, even if there isn’t any action going on. For a film that took place in the 1940s, he made it look realistic with the help of the production design, costume design, and Robert Richardson’s cinematography.

The screenplay here is nothing short of phenomenal when it’s purposely well-written and sometimes humorous. You go into a film of his, and you’re going to expect a ton of dialogue-heavy scenes, but if you’re a fan, it’s easy to be glued to the screen with all these characters talking. Most of the lines consist of multiple languages throughout (English, German, French, Italian). Something of a very interesting choice for a Hollywood movie. As I was watching it again, it honestly felt like I was reading a captivating novel I couldn’t put down for a minute, unless it was for a bathroom break. And that’s because he’s someone who knows how to build tension very well. For someone who doesn’t read a lot, that’s a positive comparing a film to a book. Basically, Tarantino has made a fairy tale where he has his fictional characters alter the course of history as we know it. In an alternate world, it might’ve happened once you think about it. Since they split this into five chapters to focus on the characters, it leaves you wondering how each part will end. It never delves into being predictable when everything comes together.

Gedeon Burkhard, August Diehl, Michael Fassbender, and Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Do you know why this film won both the SAG and Broadcast Films Critics’ awards for Best Cast? Because you know it’s going to be a great film from Tarantino when it’s an ensemble. Brad Pitt’s performance as Tennessee-born Aldo Raine was a blast to watch as the leader who wants his men to bring him 100 Nazi scalps, and he wants his scalps. We don’t get a lot of him around the middle, despite being the biggest name in this, but with his Southern accent is the cherry on top to where it doesn’t become cheesy from the glimpse we saw from the trailer. French actress Mélanie Laurent was superb as Shosanna Dreyfus, the Jewish woman who escaped from Landa’s crutches after his soldiers killed her family under the floorboards. She’s a woman who sets out for vengeance after what she experienced, which makes her one of the best female characters in all of Tarantino’s filmography.

The always underrated Diane Kruger was a delight with her screen time as Bridget von Hammersmark. This was also the first time I’ve ever recognized both Michael Fassbender and Daniel Brühl in anything as British paratrooper and former film critic Lt. Archie Hicox and German war hero Fredrick Zoller, respectively. But there’s also Eli Roth (not the best actor but was decent) as Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz, Til Schweiger, B.J. Novak, and an almost unrecognizable Mike Myers as Gen. Ed French. It’s been a while since he’s been in a good movie, even if it’s just one scene.

But in the history of cinema, has there ever a time where there have been three years straight where the villains stole the show? It was Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men in ‘07, Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight in ‘08, and following them was the incredible Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa. He has to be one of the most intelligent antagonists in cinema, and it might’ve helped that this character has the nickname “The Jew Hunter. The perfectly cast Waltz is given a tremendous screen presence that you’re just waiting for him to return on the screen to feel the amount of tension between the person he’s talking to through quiet conversations. The first 20 minutes alone is suspenseful enough to convince the audience of establishing we should be afraid of him. Could you even imagine if someone like Leonardo DiCaprio, Tarantino’s first choice, was in this role? It’s a shame the villainous roles he has gotten typed cast for afterward haven’t matched up to the success of this performance in here.

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Some might’ve walked into this thinking this would be a straight-up action movie, and it isn’t. Sure, it is in violet, bloody fashion, but this doesn’t focus as much on the action as one would expect as much so a war drama. But once it gets to those moments, it’s completely outstanding when you root for the good guys. Two scenes in this are the most talked about moments whenever Inglorious Basterds is talked about in conversations: The opening conversation with Hans and dairy farmer owner Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) and the entire bar sequence with the cards was nerve-racking. Both of them had me at the edge of my seat, having no clue what’s about to happen. The last act is when it gets better with each passing minute, when it explodes into a glorious bloodbath that was something everyone has expected to see in a long time if history went uniquely. Not gonna lie, I laughed when Hitler got blazed by a machine gun the first time I watched it.

I should also mention the soundtrack. For the longest time, I always thought it was an original score behind it, but most of the tracks stem from old spaghetti westerns by the late Ennio Morricone, except for including David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire).”

Brad Pitt and B.J. Novak in Inglourious Basterds (2009)

For the flaws of which this film carries on its shoulders, there isn’t much to say. Sometimes the pacing can fizzle out since it’s 152 minutes, and certain scenes around the second act can be a tiny bit long. However, I liked how it was taking its time while not saying it’s exhausting. Other than that, should I be complaining about seeing Nazis being wasted? No, because everybody wants to see the worst human beings on the planet get what they deserved. Call it self-indulgent all you want, but it’s an almost three-hour movie where we are finally these monsters taken down.

Becoming the highest-grossing Tarantino film at the time with over $300 million worldwide, it received positive reviews from critics, along with earning eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. We all know Waltz rightfully won Best Supporting Actor (his first win working with the director) because his performance was that memorable, but I believe this should’ve won Best Picture over The Hurt Locker, or anything that movie won. Because of the ten nominated in the category, this out beats everything else, and this one is clearly more talked about. 

By the end, Inglorious Basterds is one of the best films to come out of 2009 as Tarantino has made another entertaining gem of a motion picture with exciting and bold direction, fantastically sharp writing, and a well-rounded cast all around. Many have considered this their favorite from the director, and who can blame them? Here we have another movie I wished I saw in theaters. Seriously, this is definitely worth watching if you have never taken the time to check it out to see if you regard this as a masterpiece.

Have you seen Inglourious Basterds, and what’s your favorite film from Quentin Tarantino?

Grade: A-

Inglourious Basterds Movie Poster

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