Inglourious Basterds (2009)

19 August 2009

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Inglourious Basterds is set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as "The Basterds" are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. The Basterds soon cross paths with a French-Jewish teenage girl who runs a cinema in Paris which is targeted by the soldiers.

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"Inglourious Basterds was first announced over 5 years ago and has been languishing in production ever since. The wait is finally over and whilst it does exude classic Tarantino charm and style, it falls somewhat short of the mark of his other films."

The film follows an elite squad of Nazi hunting Jews parachuted into France and led by the charismatic Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt).  They're quickly introduced as men with one single-minded purpose - to hunt and kill Nazis.  Their opposite number is Colonel Hans Lander (the excellent Christoph Waltz), a Nazi officer who has cultivated a fearsome reputation sniffing out Jews in hiding with brutal efficiency, so much so that he's known as The Jew Hunter.  But when a young girl escapes his clutches one day, he's unaware of how significant a role she will play in his future.

As you'd expect from a Tarantino movie, the film is chock-full of snappy and quick-witted dialogue.  In the first 10 minutes we're treated to a tense exchange between characters which makes use of the linguistic barrier between French and German. It's a wonderfully clever and engaging device and it's difficult to think of another director who could pull off such a scene with such effortless style.

In keeping with Tarantino's love for fractured narratives, the film follows the meandering stories of its individual characters which eventually build to a conclusion.  However, these set pieces don't quite seem to fit together in this film making it seem a bit disjointed and slightly lost.

There are some wonderful scenes and ones that will stay with you long after the film ends but as a whole it comes across as a patchwork quilt of style that doesn't quite hang together.  And Tarantino, so adept at drenching his films in American cool is not quite so effective when it comes to European sensibilities.

Tarantino has always been one to focus on style over substance and at times, Inglourious Basterds' comic book feel is slightly at odds with its subject matter. Whether you take the film's premise seriously is one thing but I felt distinctly uncomfortable watching the Basterds carve swastikas into their surviving opponents' foreheads - how far away is this from the branding of Jews with a Star of David in concentration camps? It's a revenge movie, so it's not unsurprising, but the way in which it seems to glorify this kind of behaviour is distinctly unpalatable.

The characters are larger than life and ones that you shouldn't take too seriously (how seriously can you take a character called "The Bear Jew"?) - There has to be a certain suspension of disbelief for a film like this to even work.   But in favouring style over substance you can't help but feel there needs to be a little more character development for a film 153 minutes long. 

Despite these grievances, it's an entertaining, bombastic and stylish film with Tarantino's trademark quick wit and eye for visual flair and despite its length, you'll never be bored. But if you're looking for the next Pulp Fiction, you won't find it here.

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  • Venue
  • Odeon Leicester Square, London
  • Celebrities in Attendence
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Diane Kruger
  • Rihanna
  • Mickey Rourke
  • Neve Campbel
  • Liz McLarnon
  • Jameela Jamil
  • Ronan Keating
  • Tallulah Adeyemi
  • Premiere Date
  • 23 July 2009