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Film Review Inglorious Basterds

Silly alternative history about Nazi hunters going after Hitler in a Parisian cinema.

FILM REVIEW – INGLORIOUS BASTERDS 2009

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Controversial and Quentin Tarantino tend to go hand in hand in film making, and never more so than in this alternative history comedy drama in which a group of American Jewish freedom fighters set out to kill as many Nazis as possible, and end up killing Hitler and his entire hand command in 1944.

It’s an enjoyable romp with lots of slow talking heads moments between blood bath sequences and the slenderest of plots.

The title alone caused some controversy with the deliberate mis-spelling often failing to stop advertisers and critics simply calling the film Inglorious or replacing the B word with !!@# Type symbols.  Inglorious Basterds is not the first film to go for such a title. There was a brutal and lousy Western with the cheerful title A Town Called Bastard in 1971 starring Telly Savales

Tarantino’s film starts with a notorious Nazi known as Jew Hunter, (played with sinister relish by Christoph Waltz), doing just that and verbally trapping a farmer into revealing that he has a Jewish family in previously safe protection under his floorboards. His men execute the entire household, except for Shusanna (Melanie Laurent) who somehow manages to convince the Nazis in Paris that she is the owner / manager of a cinema there. 

The film then cuts to the French countryside and the exploits of the Basterds themselves. They are Jewish Americans and concentration Camp escapees who have decided to fight back (even before America has entered the war. Led by Aldo Raine (Brad Bitt), they seek Nazi scalps and allow their few survivors to go, but with swastikas cut into their foreheads to brad them forever with what they are.  We see them capture and execute a group of soldiers and a leading Nazi, having him beaten to death with a baseball bat. They seem to have no qualms about committing war crimes of their own.

By 1944, Shusanna now runs the cinema well enough to attract the attention of Goebbels who decides to show a major new propaganda film there about the exploits of a German sniper who managed to kill hundreds of Allied soldiers. The sniper gets to play him in the film, and develops a crush on cinema Manager, though she despises him. Worse, his attention draws the attention of The Jew Hunter who is also attending the film showing and vaguely recalls having seen the woman before (a thread that the film doesn’t bother exploiting further).

The Basterds learn of this from spies in British Intelligence, sent by Winston Churchill, with Rod Taylor giving one of the worst ever depictions of the British Prime Minister though Martin Wuttke is superb as Hitler.

With  Shusanna and her black boyfriend (the projectionist for the cinema) planning to burn the cinema down with the Nazis inside, and the Basterds planning on smuggling in lots dynamite to take down the Nazis, the assassination plots converge and run to risk of cancelling one another out.  It becomes a suicide mission for most of the participants involved. The Jew Hunter captures Raine, (one of the few survivors) and manages to negotiate an escape for himself, demanding American immunity, which he is granted on the phone by a heard but unseen Harvey Kite, but Raine has him branded with the Swastika scalp cross before letting him go.

The film is unsure what genre it serves, be it comedy or thriller. We see nothing of real soldiers or French Resistance fighters. We have just Shosannah and a handful of cruel Basterds achieving an end to the entire war a year early.  Pitt’s Raine is particularly nasty, torturing a German actress and spy (actually an ally of their cause), by pressing a finger into a bullet wound in her leg to get more information from her.

The film was likely to get American’s cheering for its simplistic ‘the only good German is a dead one’ attitude, and rough justice approach, but ultimately the film simply makes no sense. It’s fun in many respects but it seems heartless and un-sure where it is going beyond making war look easy.

Arthur Chappell 

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