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Monday, 10 January 2011

Inglourious Basterds Review (Text)

Now, I’m fairly sure that absolutely everyone else who was ever going to see Inglourious Basterds has already seen it, therefore making a review slightly pointless. However, that’s never stopped me before, so I’m just going to write my thoughts on this movie, and see whether or not anyone agrees with me. Enjoy.

The first thing I would like to discuss is the title of this piece. The title of the movie was, of course, taken from the 70s film “Inglorious Bastards” (a.k.a “G.I. Bro” for all you Blaxploitation fans out there), and changed the second “a” in “Bastards” to an “e” for reasons unknown (and added an extra “u” to Inglorious, if my spelling ability isn’t completely fucked.

This is not a photoshop. This is genuinely the alternate poster and title for the original Inglorious Bastards.

This however, does not concern me. What I really want to know is why take the title from Inglorious bastards in the first place, even without the whole a/e thing? After all, Inglourious Basterds is clearly not a direct remake of Bastards, so why use the name? My guess would be that it was simply because QT thought the name sounded cool, and figured that since there isn’t a black soldier in the film he couldn’t get away with calling it “G.I. Bro”, so went for “Inglourious basterds” instead. However, despite the fact that the two stories are completely different for the most part, there is one similarity which none of the reviews I have read managed to pick up on (then again, I suspect I’m one of the only people in the world to have seen the original Inglorious Bastards before seeing QT’s version).

In the original film, the Bastards are a group of deserters heading for Switzerland who come across what appears to be a German platoon on their way to the Alpine border. The Bastards engage the enemy, and kill all of them, before discovering that they were an undercover American unit sent in to apprehend the German’s V-2 prototype by infiltrating the train it was set to be transported on. The Bastards feel it is their duty to fill in for he Americans they killed, but only have one German speaker in the group. Not only this, but one of their men is also Black, and a French resistance fighter points out that he won’t be able to go undercover as a German soldier. This one element of the story is closely mirrored in “Basterds”, when the three German speakers from the group are all killed, and Diane Kruger’s character points out to Brad Pitt that they will never be able to infiltrate the German film festival (this will sound odd if you haven’t seen the movie, but basically, there is a film festival all the Nazis are going to in Paris, and the basterds want to get in and blow them up) if none of them can speak or even look German. This is literally the only part of the original movie to appear in Tarantino’s movie, which seems odd given they share the same title. But, I guess if you wanted to watch Inglorious bastards, you may as well pick up the original, so I can see why QT didn’t just copy it.

Because, let's face it, this is gonna be hard to top...

Regarding Tarantino’s movie, however, the new plot is interesting enough. As mentioned above, it focuses on a plot by the Inglourious Basterds, a group of Jewish-American guerrilla fighters led by Brad Pitt, who intend to assassinate the Nazi leadership when they attend a film screening in Paris. The movie splits its time between the Basterds, and the characters of Shosanna Dreyfus, the French owner of the Paris cinema the Nazi screening is due to take place in, whose Jewish family was murdered by an SS Colonel at the start of the film, and Fredrick Zoller, a young German war hero who is desperate to woo Dreyfus, unaware of her past or heritage. Dropping in on both storylines, we also have Colonel Hans Lander, the SS officer who murdered Dreyfus’s family at the beginning of the film, who adds menace as the “Jew Hunter” tasked with bringing in the Basterds.

This guy... is un-fucking... believable.

Essentially, the entire film is made up of just a couple of scenes, put together to form the story. We change location 10 times at the very most over the course of the movie, and each of the five “chapters” is essentially made up of one small “set-up” scene, followed by a long “action” scene. Of course, this is very familiar Tarantino turf, being exactly the same as the structure he used in Reservoir Dogs, True Romance and Pulp Fiction, all of which were essentially just collections of cool scenes put together to make a film. But in Basterds this is even more exaggerated, to the extent that you feel the film really has been told in only 6 scenes. This is a really cool way of telling a story, because it allows a lot of tension to build in each scene, as there is no pressure to cut away to something else going on in a different location, so Tarantino is free to have 20 minutes build up to a pay off, and can really make the best use of his incredible dialogue-writing skills.

Never forget...

Although Tarantino himself lists the very first scene in the film as the best scene he has ever written, I would have to disagree with that statement. The scene in the basement of the Inn where the German speaking-members of the Basterds go undercover to meet their contact is one of the best scenes I have ever seen committed to film, and shows that Tarantino really does still have the magic that made Pulp and Dogs such memorable movies. In fact, I would say that this scene probably surpasses the infamous “Sicilian Scene” from True Romance as being the best scene Tarantino has ever written or shot, as it is just perfect. And the fact that he can keep that level of quality up for the half hour or so the scene runs for just shows the man’s pure mastery of cinema.

That said, however, there were a couple of directorial choices that I didn’t like in the film. The first of these was the title we got when first introduced to the character of Sergeant Stiglitz, and the cheesy voiceover we got when his past adventures were shown. It just felt way too cheesy for the film, and really didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie. It’s a though Tarantino still hasn’t got all his Grindhouse fanboy love out of his system, which is a real shame, given how good this movie is for the most part, and how realistic he keeps most of it. I suspect that he just couldn’t think of a good way to introduce Stiglitz’s backstory within the film without killing the pace or making it seem gratuitous so just figured “fuck it, if this thing’s gonna stick out, I’m gonna make sure it’s right in everyone’s face!”. The second cutaway scene like this with the explanation of why 35mm film was so flammable isn’t quite so annoying, probably because we had already had one cutaway explanatory scene by that point, but still killed the tone and pace a little, just as Stiglitz’s backstory did. However, I’m fairly sure Samuel L. Jackson did the voice over, so it was kind of cool just sitting there going Yep, that’s Sam Jackson all right.” (I just checked IMDB to make sure, and was surprised to see that the OSS officer we hear speaking to Brad Pitt near the end of the film was Harvey Keitel. How about that?).

No caption required. Oh wait...

I also felt that a couple of scenes of violence were a little gratuitous. Now, I don’t really mind violence – I mean, come on, I just admitted that one of my favourite film scenes is one which involves (Wait, sorry – SPOILER ALERT – probably best apply that from here on out, really) two guys getting their balls shot off, and a whole room full of people machinegunning each other – but a couple of bits just felt unnecessary. For example, the second time we see Brad Pitt carve a swastika into someone’s head, I felt like we didn’t really need to see it in such detail, because it worked well the first time when we didn’t actually see anything (just like the “ear scene” in Reservoir Dogs). I also didn’t like the scene when Eli Roth shoots a recently killed character in the face about 20 times as he lies on the floor. I mean, I can understand what its showing – it’s showing his hatred and anger at the guy for killing so many Jews, but I’m not entirely sure we needed to see a shot of his face as it was blown apart. We could have seen the first impact, then cut to Eli firing until his mag ran out. That way we would have understood what was happening, and understood what the character was feeling, but not been subjected to such unnecessary gore. I know that war is actually horrible and unpleasant to look at, but at the same time, that wasn’t really the point the movie was making (given how overly stylized and “cool” most of the violence is), so the shot just felt a bit over-the-top, as though it was only in there to spark controversy.

NOT that kind of controversy...

Other than that, though, I really didn’t have any problems with this film. I’ve heard people complain about how most of the film is in French and German, but while I did miss the end of a couple of subtitles, this really didn’t bother me for the most part. In fact, I quite liked the effect it gave, because I don’t see how some of the scenes could have been resolved were the entire film shot in English, as the language is pivotal to the plot in places (e.g. the Jews in the barn not speaking English, or the Germans in the bar).

What did really surprise me about this film, though, was the way that it doesn’t stick to factual events, but instead writes its own version of the war. Whilst this seems strange, setting a movie in history and ignoring historical facts (it almost seems disrespectful to the people who were actually there), this effect does keep the tension up, because it means that literally anything can happen. One of the reasons prequels tend to be worse than the original films (except for “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” and the prequel sections of “The Godfather part 2”) is because you already know exactly what will happen, so there is no real tension. With an altered history line, however, Tarantino is able to keep the tension going, as we are left unsure of whether or not the Basterds really will be able to kill the Nazi leadership and end the war. Plus, I suppose every historical story twists events to better suit the cinema anyway, so if they’re changing things in supposedly “true” stories, what harm does it do to make an entirely fictitious piece of work and set it in an actual historical event?

So, I loved the technical side of things, and the story and direction of the film, but what about the actors?

To be honest, I felt Brad Pitt was bad in this film. I felt he was a little too concerned with his accent, and not really that bothered by anything else. In the scenes where he is supposed to be playing an Italian, he is acting like he is Joe Black, and even in the other scenes, he seems as though he is just trying to play the whole thing for laughs. “Hey guys, listen to this stupid accent – isn’t this funny? I’ll get an Oscar for this!”. The other actors, however, are a different story.

For starters, I was very impressed by Eli Roth’s acting. He was overacting quite a bit in scenes, but for the most part seemed to pull of his character really well, which is pretty good for a guy who’s actually known as a director, rather than an actor. Hell, if his name wasn't in the credits or the posters, I'm certain I would have thought he was an actual actor, rather than a director. Till Schweiger is also really good, considering I had only seen him as Heinz Hummer in Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo before. This was possibly even more distracting than seeing Austin Powers playing a British General (though he was barely recognizable, and were his name not in the opening credits, I probably wouldn’t have known it was him).

He is pretty difficult to recognize, after all...

The real surprise of the bunch, however, is Diane Kruger, who I had previously only seen stumble through family movies like National Treasure and Troy. She seemed really bland in those films, and didn’t seem at all competent. And yet now I realize why – because she’s fucking German. Duh. When speaking her native tongue, or even speaking English but using her regular accent, Kruger nails the dialogue perfectly almost every time, and is perfect as German actress Bridget Von Hammersmark. I can see why she would have sucked in the movies when she was having to put on an American accent, of course; their accents make it hard enough to act even for us Brits – imagine how hard it must be to have that effect compounded on top of he fact that you’re not speaking your native language – but it’s still awesome to finally see her do a half-decent performance. I get the feeling she was previously only ever cast because she’s hot, so it’s cool to see her finally act, rather than just model in films. Although, actually, Tarantino does seem to have a foreign girl fetish (the Swiss chick in Pulp, the french chick in Kill Bill, also possibly Lucy Liu in Kill Bill, the Kiwi stuntwoman in Deathproof), so maybe he did cast her just because he fancied her?

I have no idea why German girls have such a bad rep in this country. They may actually be even hotter than French girls...

However, the best performance of the piece, of course, goes to Christoph Waltz, for his incredible performance as Colonel Heinz Hummer – sorry – Hans Landa. Fuck, now I’ve got Rob Schneider stuck in my head. Thanks a lot, Schweiger!

Yep, that's Till Schweiger, about to have his cock grabbed by 'Undercover Brother'. You're welcome.

Waltz won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Colonel Landa, so that pretty well tells you all you need to know about the performance. Waltz nails it, being the smartest, evilest, yet most charming villain we’ve had since Die Hard. He’s such a cool character that as we started to near the end of the film I was actively hoping he wouldn’t die, because he was so awesome. I genuinely felt that a character that smart deserved to survive the film, in spite of the fact that he had killed countless jews, and that’s a good indication of how well Waltz played his part – he turned one of the most unlikeable bastards ever into a character you were genuinely rooting for. Now that’s acting.

I really enjoyed his film, then, and would highly recommend it. The only other thing I want to know is – How come Eli Roth and Omar didn’t leg it out of the theatre once they’d shot all the guys in the opera box and planted the bomb? The weren’t locked in, as only the doors to the main seating area were locked, and they had done their job – so why not just run? Seemed a bit weird to me, but whatever – it was still a cool ending to an awesome movie. Well, actually, the very final scene after was even better, especially the closing line. But I shan't spoil it for you if you haven't already seen the film...



4 Stars

I wouldn’t say it’s definitely better than Inglorious Bastards, but it is very different. This film contains some absolutely incredible scenes and performances, and is easily Tarantino’s best film since Pulp Fiction. It’s not flawless, but it is great fun, and you could definitely do a lot worse. This movie shows why Tarantino is considered one of the great directors of our time despite producing so few movies, and so few actually decent films out of those he does. Definitely worth a watch, and a great way to spend 2 and a half hours, as long as you’re not an American who can’t bear to watch something with subtitles.


Before I forget, today’s review was sponsored by Bin Laden photobombing Ed Miliband:

Apparently Eli Roth was dating Peaches Geldoff for a while. Here’s to hoping he punched Bob in the face!

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