The Bad and The Ugly

Movie Title: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Spoilers: No


2008 was known for being the year of release for a slew of holocaust movies, a number of them of questionable quality. As 2009 now passes the halfway point, another holocaust film emerges—this one of pleasingly higher quality (and one where the viewer is strongly encouraged to learn German). Too many portions of the film are in German and they run too long, but in those times, you get the tax-less task of absorbing German and European culture and picking up on the body language of characters that is as telling as any full-length Sunday morning sermon you ever heard.

Come see Inglourious Basterds where chopping up Nazis redneck queer-hater-style is made more appealing than you thought it could be. And the gruesome killing is only one item. There’s still more story than slaughter. You get to see Germans with a taste for the finer things in life have cake on the one hand while discussing hate-based nationalism over champagne on the other. You get to see machine gun fire and scalping of Nazis, and then there is the added feature of Nazi skulls being opened up with the aid of a baseball bat. It was giddy watching!

Inglourious Basterds was inspired by The Inglorious Bastards, a 1978 Italian war film, though it is not a remake. Inglourious Basterds is about a brigade of Jewish-American holocaust survivor soldiers who band together under the leadership of an Apache-blooded Tennessean by the name of Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt). Raines needs to wear a rat-tail haircut and be a regular at country music dance halls. He’d fit right in. Seeing a hill-bill-ified Brad Pitt on ads and in trailers didn’t do it for me. I had to actually see him on screen as Raines, readying his soldiers and telling them they each owed him 100 Nazi scalps. When I saw that, then I decided he worked for the part.

Aldo’s brigade is on a mission, and that mission is to rendezvous with an English (and beautiful) spy named Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who is working with the American government in their mission to eliminate the four higher-ups of the Nazi movement, including Hitler. By ambushing and killing them at the viewing of a movie called Nation’s Pride, the war would be brought to an end. The brigade’s opposition is headed up by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a connivingly brilliant and multilingual Gestapo intelligence officer who has a reputation for rounding up Jews like the “Jew hunter” he comes to be known as. His is one of the finest of the fine performances.

Tarantino focuses on the subject of the Holocaust in tongue-in-cheek revenge-minded fashion. Inglourious Basterds is comically crafted. Tarantino does not rely on heavy drama, and he doesn’t reinforce the Hollywood Jew-inspired “lest we forget” somber mood or feel. Rather, Tarantino instead brings us a funny and entertaining story of vengeance that satisfies on many levels. In message of the plot, it is unapologetic; in its delivery, it is brutal.

The Nazis of Inglourious Basterds are evil sure enough, but their portrayal does not conjure up images of demonic laughter or thug-like debauchery. The Nazis’ hatred for the Jewish people comes right through to the surface in the brave men and women who do their civic duty to serve their Fuhrers and country. The German citizens are well educated. These are people who listen to Bach. They are people who will die for their convictions, however misguided. Tarantino shows us that.

Though they too will die for their cause, Aldo’s crew is not nearly as refined and for sure not as educated as their to-be-scalped assailants. The American soldiers speak one language. The English and German soldiers speak at least two languages fluently. The Germans run things like clockwork. The Americans get the job done anyway they can and get chewed out for minor infractions/insubordinations later. But the Americans happen to have the cause to be championed. Hitler must be stopped.

Like the stepped on “rats” called Jews, sometimes the side of the less esteemed has the better cause. The Americans are degenerates; the Germans are graceful barbarians. Does Tarantino want America to read between the lines? Are we a stone’s throw away from being the Nazis we look down upon and condemn? Was it nothing more than a fortunate turn of events that led to America and her anti-Nazi allies being on the right side of things? Tarantino appears to be sending that message.

But Inglourious Basterds doesn’t get bogged down in delivering its message like so many other films would. The dialogue at every point is as sly as a fox. Ordinary conversations escalate to levels of nail-biting intensity. Tarantino is a student of human behavior. His careful application of human conduct turns what would have been just another humdrum holocaust film into a story that stands out like the swastikas carved for our pleasure into the foreheads of the disheartened German soldiers.



Grade: A- (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: R
Summation: A group of American-Jewish soldiers attack a theater in an attempt to take down the Nazi regime.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt “Lt. Aldo Raines,” Mélanie Laurent “Shosanna Dreyfus,” Christoph Waltz “Col. Hans Landa,” Eli Roth “Sgt. Donny Donowitz,” Richard Sammel “Sgt. Werner Rachtman,” Michael Fassbender “Lt. Archie Hicox,” Diane Kruger “Bridget von Hammersmark,” Daniel Brühl “Fredrick Zoller,” Til Schweiger “Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz,” Gedeon Burkhard “Cpl. Wilhelm Wicki”
Genre: Action / War / Drama