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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Inglourious Basterds

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Quentin Tarantino Rewrites History with “Inglourious Basterds”
Writer/director Quentin Tarentino scores another home run with his latest feature film, Inglourious Basterds (purposely misspelled), in which he envisions an alternate history involving World War II with the Jews seeking revenge against the Nazis. Oh, goodie, I always like a movie about deserved retribution and as I see it, what better targets than the despicable Nazis getting their just dessert.

Like his other two masterpieces, Kill Bill Parts I and II, Inglourious Basterds is told in chapters, five to be exact. The first, a nodd to Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns, opens up with the words "Once Upon a Time... in Nazi-Occupied France”.  So right away, it is clear Tarantino has come up with a tale incorporating fact with fiction and he goes about it masterfully from start to finish.

The magnificently orchestrated opening sequence involves the interrogation of a French farmer at his farmhouse that leads to the massacre of a Jewish family hiding under the floor, at the hands of the manipulatively evil SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christophe Waltz). Shosanna Dreyfus (a haunting Melanie Laurent) is the sole survivor, and after witnessing her family’s death, she is barely able to escape into the woods under the watchful eye of the Colonel.

Fast forward three years.  It is now 1944 and Tennessee born, Lt. Aldo Raine (hilariously portrayed by a snuff inhaling, jaw protruding Brad Pitt) of Indian heritage, has rounded up a team of eight Jewish American soldiers with one purpose, to strike fear into the Germans and send them a warning by torturing and killing any and all Nazis in uniform they can get their hands on.  Aldo is nicknamed Apache, for his method of having his men scalp their victims. Those lucky to survive are permanently scarred with a deep knife cut of a swastika on their forehead, as a reminder.

One of Aldo’s men, Sgt. Donny Donnowitz (played by Hostel director Eli Roth) also is nicknamed. He is called the “Bear Jew” for the way he joyfully bashes in Nazi’s brains with a baseball bat. Added to their team is a rebel German soldier, Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), imprisoned for killing thirteen German officers and freed by Aldo and his men who admire his work. Together, the group of Nazi hunters are known by their enemy as the Basterds.

Meanwhile, back to Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), who fled to Paris where she assumed a new identity as Emmanuelle, the owner/operator of a movie house.  She devises her own plan for revenge after she catches the romantic interest of war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) and star of a movie about himself called Nation’s Pride.  It is the latest propaganda film from high ranking Nazi Joseph Goebbel (Sylvester Groth) who decides he wants to premiere the film at her theater, with Officers of the Third Reich including The Fuehrer himself, Hitler (Martin Wuttke), in attendance. Shosanna’s plan, with assistance from her black lover, the theatre projectionist, soon becomes intertwined with the Basterds’ mission to take down the Nazi leaders which includes help from Archie Hicox, a British officer/undercover film critic (played by Irish actor Michael Fassbender) and German movie star/double agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger).

Brad Pitt has lead billing, and the entire supporting cast does an admirable job, but veteran Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who is not familiar to American audiences, blew me away as the smart, cunning, lethal Jew hunter who puts on a charming masquerade that masks his deadly intentions. Waltz is nothing short of mesmerizing, commands every scene, and rightfully deserves an Academy award for his unforgettable performance. Word is Tarantino had almost given up on finding the right actor for this role who could speak fluent German, French, Italian and English, and the project almost came to halt.  But as luck has it, the filmmaker came across Waltz and (as Colonel Landa would say) bingo, he was a perfect fit.

In cameo roles are Mike Myers (wearing prosthetic face makeup) convincing as an elderly British General and an unrecognizable, bloated Rod Taylor (he starred in the original The Time Machine) as Winston Churchill. If you pay attention you will notice a few of Tarantino’s buddies/ stars of his movies are heard but not seen in very brief cameos. Samuel L. Jackson does a short voice over narration and Harvey Keitel is heard towards the end as the phone voice of an American General.

Inglorious Basterds is filled with characteristic Tarantino trademarks such as exquisitely crafted scenes, elaborate dialogue, an eclectic score and graphic violence, although I must add this film really doesn’t have any gratuitous, bloody killings or violence, just what is warranted and fitting to the storyline.  Most of all, once again Tarantino proves that he is an amazing storyteller who can interweave intricate plotlines and scenarios together with a clever mix of comedy and drama like few other filmmakers.

More than halfway into 2009, Inglourious Basterds may very well be among my list of the best movies of the year.  It isn’t easy re-writing history, but Tarantino concocts a delicious scenario in which revenge against the Nazis is not only sweet but very entertaining.

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