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Inglourious Basterds (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 16, 2023

Inglourious Basterds


Starring Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, Gedeon Burkhard, Jacky Ido, B.J. Novak, Omar Doom, August Diehl, Sylvester Groth, Martin Wuttke, Mike Myers, Julie Dreyfus, Samm Levine, Paul Rust and Michael Bacall.

Written by Quentin Tarantino.

Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Distributed by The Weinstein Company.  152 minutes.  Rated R.

Fifteen years and four uneven, not particularly popular films on from Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s directing career could use a boost.

Like a squadron to save the day comes Inglourious Basterds, a gonzo World War II fantasy, featuring superstar Brad Pitt.

This movie will certainly not return Tarantino to the giddy highs of his Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction heyday – however, even while Inglourious Basterds does suffer from its auteur’s traditional unevenness and two apparently-intended spelling errors in its title, all things considered, it is one of his better films.

This is even more impressive because it was definitely a more technically difficult film to make than many of Tarantino’s previous movies.  It is a period piece and long swatches of the film are performed completely in French and German with subtitles.

As often is the case with Tarantino’s films, it is not so much a big storyline as many smaller ones interwoven to make a larger tapestry.  Inglourious Basterds has five “chapters” – all of which have certain recurring characters but all different thrusts and directions.  Many of the main characters eventually end up in the final chapter – but even then, many are ignorant of the others and their stories.

The first chapter shows a teenaged French dairy farmer’s daughter (Mélanie Laurent of Paris) escaping from the brutal massacre of her hidden Jewish family by a ruthless Nazi commander (Christoph Waltz).  The second introduces us to the titular characters – a group of American Jewish soldiers led by Pitt who have created a rogue guerilla group whose one directive is to kill and scalp as many Nazis as possible.

As the storylines intersect, the farmer’s daughter (who has gotten falsified papers) takes over a Paris theater that is chosen to hold a special screening of a new Nazi propaganda film.  The Nazi who killed her parents is head of security.  All the major names in the Nazi party will be there – including the Fuhrer himself.  The daughter decides that it is her duty to destroy her own theater while there are so many high-powered Nazi’s there.  In the meantime, the Basterds plan on crashing the party themselves – together with a famous German actress (Diane Kruger).

Surprisingly, with such a potentially violent storyline, Tarantino mostly downplays the graphicness of his action.  Yes, we do see a few scalpings, but even they are done with a bit of restraint – if that is possible.

Some of this stuff doesn’t work – for example a blaxploitation-style flashback and voiceover discussing one of the Basterd’s backgrounds feels very uncomfortable against the 1940s period style of the film.

Also, the climax, while stirring, is obviously a huge rewrite of world history – to the level that Inglourious Basterds could fairly be slotted as fantasy.

However, it is human and understandable to want to try to rewrite such an ugly period of history.  As long as you don’t try to pass off what you see in the movie as having actually happened during World War II, it makes for some perfectly harmless and rather entertaining wish fulfillment.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: December 7, 2009.


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