Best of ’09: Inglourious Basterds

As the end of the year all-too-rapidly approaches, we’ll be taking a look back at some of the best films of 2009 – next up is Ben Vernel’s review of Inglourious Basterds, recently released on DVD.

Inglourious Basterds is an interesting, tense, well-made World War II film that plays like an old fashioned spaghetti western – not surprising, considering writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s previously admitted love of the works of Sergio Leone (and the musical scores of Ennio Morricone).  In fact, the Leone influence can be found in the very first chapter title card of the film; ‘Once Upon A Time In Nazi Occupied France’ takes obvious inspiration from Leone’s films Once Upon A Time In The West and …America. We leap into a textured, stylistic 1941 France and are promptly introduced to the scene-stealing, charismatic SS officer Colonel Hans Landa (played to idiosyncratic perfection by Christoph Waltz). Landa is far and away the most interesting and most fun character in the film and the long, suspenseful opening scene was a masterful way to open the film. Landa discusses the possible whereabouts of a Jewish family known to have lived in the area with a stoic farmer (who clearly has, himself, something to hide), the whole time concealing what it is he really knows and what his true intentions are. The best thing about this scene? We, the audience, don’t know what either Landa or the farmer knows – not until the climax, that is. The one escapee – Shoshanna Dreyfus, played by newcomer Melanie Laurent – ends up seeking shelter with the owners of a cinema, eventually coming to run it.

Landa continues on his merry way, and the rest of the film follows two stories – that of the Inglourious Basterds themselves, and that of Shoshanna Dreyfus. The Basterds don’t consume nearly as much of the runtime as I had expected (and kinda hoped) but their exploits make for some gruesome and tense scenes. Both storylines converge as the film progresses and we’re left with a pretty damn explosive conclusion.

While Melanie Laurent carries her section of the narrative well and plays Dreyfus with a resolve and determination that can only come from living in such hard times, the Basterds side of the story is a different matter. Brad Pitt plays Aldo Raine, leader of the Nazi-hunting brigade. His accent is exagerrated to the point of parody and his mannerisms and expressions tend towards farcical. However, this might have been exactly what Pitt and Tarantino were going for, as the film’s winding plot and extreme scenes are best viewed with your expectations set to ‘fun’. Sound odd for a violent film about WW2? I think that’s exactly the point. Christoph Waltz is amazing as the calculating Colonel Landa and deserves every award available. Tarantino’s sometimes intrusive visual style is reigned in, allowing the performances of his largely excellent cast to shine.

The two standout scenes are the aforementioned opener and a later ensemble Mexican stand-off featuring Michael Fassbender as British officer Archie Hicox, August Diehl’s cold German Major Dieter Hellstrom, Til Schweiger as renegade Hugo Stieglitz and Diange Kruger as German starlet Bridget von Hammersmark. This scene absolutely crackles with electricity, thanks in no small part to the skill of Fassbender at playing a stuffed-up posh Brit posing as von Hammersmark’s German escort. That’s like, two parts in one.

While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of brilliance set by his earlier works, Inglourious Basterds is a fun, dark, comic, spaghetti western-esque war film and easily one of the year’s best.

– Ben Vernel

One Response to “Best of ’09: Inglourious Basterds”
  1. lois says:

    great review, sounds like a good holiday flick. the fact that Pitt says more than two words at a time makes it a must see.

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