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Inglourious Basterds (2009)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

If you take pleasure in revenge and you choose to go on taking pleasure in it, Inglourious Basterds will give you plenty to feed your pleasure. I don’t want that to be me, yet there is truth in what the film portrays: War time aggressors, like the Nazis, should be stopped. But it stung me deeply to watch how the film portrayed it. This can be a good thing. If I come away more aware of when I begin to feel vengeful, and especially if I come away from the film more aware of when I begin to take pleasure in vengeful actions, it will have served to form me in a positive way. The pity of it is that the film’s central question — how should we respond to evil that would exterminate us? — is not so much explored as it is given one direct and forcible answer: Become exterminators in return, and enjoy every minute of it. This takes away richness that Inglourious Basterds might have had, making it a low priority for viewing.

That said, there is a counter argument. To its credit, the film has elements that work against its flat, forcible answer of raw vengeance. Aldo Raine is satirically overplayed, both in the character’s naïveté as a military strategist and in Brad Pitt’s almost-over-the-top acting. Sections of the film are separated by chapter headings, providing a bit of distance from the film by reminding us that it’s fiction. Near the film’s climax, it includes a quasi mirror of itself (I’m being deliberately vague here) together with some telling reactions to it. Although these elements are weak against the broad strokes of the film, they seem to want to say, “take this with a grain of salt.” Indeed.

The filmcraft in Inglourious Basterds is excellent and rich. In particular, the character of Col. Hans Landa, a German SS officer, is a very good piece of work from all sides — dialog, acting, his role in the plot — and Christoph Waltz captures a compelling face of calculating, dispassionate evil. Mélanie Laurent’s Shoshanna is wonderful. Tarantino’s direction makes for a film that is technically very good, with many small and fascinating details. Watch Inglourious Basterds for its witty dialog. Watch it for its wry performances. But if you watch it, bring along a large dose of humanity to inoculate yourself against the Basterds’ counter-Nazism.

It’s World War II, and Lt. Aldo Raine leads a small special military team composed of Jews — the Basterds. Their mission is to kill Nazis. Any Nazis. And boy do they love to kill Nazis. Actually, “slaughter” would be a better term, except that they have more fun with it than that term implies. Wrapped around the Basterds’ exploits is the story of Shosanna, a Jewish girl whose family was slaughtered by Nazis. Although she is not joyously hunting the way that the Basterds are, she comes upon and pursues an opportunity to kill many Nazis. Here, the paths of Shosanna and the Basterds intersect. Running time: 153 min.

Inglourious Basterds is very violent and sometimes gruesome. To Nazism, its overriding answer is to become like the enemy. Occasional strong language; some passing drug use; one brief sexual scene.

  • Director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
  • Leads: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl
  • Cinematography: Robert Richardson

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