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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Inglourious Basterds (review)

Revenge Served Hot

Only Quentin Tarantino — cinema’s bad boy, the film geek who’s film-geekier than thou — would have the balls to state, as Inglourious Basterds comes to a close, that this could well be his masterpiece. Sure, it’s one of Tarantino’s characters who delights in his own achievement, that something he’s just done is his finest work of art in a medium he’s made his own, but that character is staring, cheekily, right into the camera as he says it. It’s Tarantino tweaking the audience, daring us to disagree with him.
Thing is, he might be right. Basterds is, well, glorious: a bleakly comic revenge fantasy that gets drunk on its own bloodthirst and invites us to join the orgy — and we do, oh we do — and then, when we’re so caught up in it that we’re hungry for more, he turns the tables on us and indicts our ferociousness. Which is perhaps the last thing I expected from Tarantino, who’s made a career out of pandering to fanboy yearning for blood and guts and the supposed glory that comes with it (see: Death Proof, Kill Bill Volume 1 and Volume 2). Or, no, actually, this is Tarantino’s point here, I think: He reminds us that it’s one thing to cheer on the most heinous acts of cruelty and vengeance on film — by god, it’s fun even! — as long as we remember not to forget that it’s all pretend. Inglourious basterds belong in the movies, not in reality.

Yes, Basterds is, hilariously, all about acknowledging the power of cinema: have your revenge, but have it on film, where it really will be more satisfying, anyway. Movies, to Tarantino and to those who are his most fervent fans, are incendiary, dangerous, explosive… or they should be! Movies can be literal weapons. (He implies here too — tee hee! — that film criticism can and should be all those things.) But Basterds is so superior to much of Tarantino’s previous work because he’s not just being a smug geeky basterd himself here: all the geeky movie jokes he deploys — from the 1970s-era Universal logo that opens the film and the old-fashioned “guest starring” credits to the film-within-the-film to that final parting shot — aren’t just masturbatory film-geekery. Unlikely many of his other films, this isn’t about feeding film-geekery: it’s about why and how movies can inspire such devotion in the first place. If many of Tarantino’s other films have been circle jerks in which he and his fans get off on one another and how clever they all are to be such rapacious film geeks, this one is making love to The Movies.

“Once upon a time… in Nazi-occupied France,” we’re told, a special secret squad of Jewish-American soldiers were dropped behind enemy lines with a special mission: Kill Nazis. Kill lots and lots of Nazis. Take no prisoners — take scalps. Make sure the Germans, when they hear about these deeds, are sickened by them. Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt [The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Burn After Reading], in a glouriously basterdly performance) leads this squad with glee. And we cheer them on with glee, even this pacificist liberal who would, in real life, scold Raine and his boys for their war crimes and insist it makes them no better than their enemies. But this fantasy, not reality.

But Raine and Co. are only the beginning of the story. We meet them, and then they disappear for a long stretch while we are introduced to Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), whose Jewish family was massacred by Nazis and who now lives in Paris under an assumed (and non-Jewish) name and runs a cinema. And Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl: The Bourne Ultimatum, Joyeux Noël), a German soldier and war hero who’s starring in a propaganda film directed by Joseph Goebbels himself (Sylvester Groth: The Reader) about his own heroic deeds. And Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), one of the most terrifyingly calm monsters the movies have ever given us.

Tarantino — who wrote as well as directed — is building to one of the hoariest of WWII-movie plots: the plan to kill Hitler. Here, it’s scheduled for the Paris premiere at Shosanna’s theater of that propaganda film, Nation’s Pride. (The snippets we see of it were directed by schlock horror filmmaker Eli Roth — he made the revolting Hostel, but it appears he’s much better than that; Roth appears onscreen here as one of Raine’s team, too.) The plan is audacious. The resolution of it is even more outrageous. In between, Tarantino treats us to less spaghetti-western splatter than we’re used to from his films — though there is some, of course — and more suspense constructed from long, slow scenes that are so excruciatingly nerve-wracking that I didn’t even realize I had tensed up until they were over and I found that I was in physical pain from how tightly wound I was. Scenes of slowly mounting menace become the blocks that make up a movie of such agonizing expectancy that even the inevitable doesn’t feel inevitable… and isn’t.

It’s all so deliciously fantastical, in fact, that any suggestion that Tarantino is endorsing, in actuality, the kind of behavior Raine’s team gets up to — say, in our prosecution of the current wars we find ourselves embroiled it — has to be dismissed. But that would have already been the case, it seems, because surely the only way to interpret the disgust we feel as we watch a cinema packed with Nazis cheering on American deaths in Nation’s Pride is to question our own cheering on of the deaths of Nazis we’ve been witnessing, cinematically, all along. Right?


MPAA: rated R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Kate

    One of your best reviews, I think.

  • doa766

    so, this one is not 2 hours of watching him masturbate like you said the kill bill movies were?

  • Lisa

    I felt fairly uncomfortable watching the Nazis get killed i didnt mind the jews at the start cos you dont see anything lol but I am getting squeamish in my old age the italians getting killed in Nation’s Pride (they were italians weren’t they?) was funny – it’s quite slapsticky actually in fact you are more laughing at the germans for laughing at it. That part was so over the top (well the whole film is) that I laughed at it. Nation’s Pride is such a bad movie. I felt that Zoller, being such a movie fan, was more upset about that, than the fact that he was watching himself re-enact his massacre. He was a little shit bastard rapist.

    I did not know that Eli Roth directed that part

    (slight spoiler) why would she bring italians to that sort of movie wtf ?

    Hans Landa was a brilliant character tho I loved every bit of the movie he was in

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    An excellent review that I thoroughly agree with. One thing that I keep thinking back to is how incredible Daniel Bruhl is in this movie, and how remarkable his character is in general —

    (vague, nonspecific spoilers!)

    — in that he’s arguably the only example in Tarantino’s work of a genuine, old-fashioned Tragic Hero; someone whose downfall is not down to bad luck or being outdrawn, but is actually down to something ugly and terrible inside himself. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch Zoller struggling to be a better person, and it’s almost unbearable when his Nazi side eventually wins out.

    The movie, in general, reminded me that Tarantino really does still have the power to surprise you.

  • Lisa

    non vague specificish spoilers!!!! you have been warned!!

    I liked Daniel Bruhl but I had the opposite reading of his role. In that it seemed to me that he was gonna be the good Nazi – that’s why the scene where’s he going I killed 37 the first day, I killed 98 the second day was funny to me cos it wasn’t what I was expecting.

    I don’t think he was trying to be a better person I just think he got more and more evil as he went along. The fake modesty when he tells her about killing all those guys, that frat boy self entitlement when he goes to the projectionist room. His Nazi uniform got more and more extravagant. I truly think that he doesn’t like Nation’s Pride and that’s why he’s upset at the end. Film snob!

    She looks at him in the movie and reads too much into his face which was funny too – the power of the movies!!!

    I just don’t think he’s that self – aware. Daniel was great in it tho.

  • MaSch

    No one mentioned Til Schweiger yet. Does this mean that his part is far less prominent than Germans are led to believe (which would be a good thing, if his work here isn’t 100% different from his usual work)?

  • Lisa

    He has his moments – coming up to and during the scene in the bar which help to amp the tension up quite a bit

    I dunno if the film was re-cut from Cannes so he might have had a bigger part then however he gives good glower.

    Take it you’re not a fan?

  • MaSch

    Take it you’re not a fan?

    Yup, I’m not.

  • Paul

    Right?

    Wrong. Tarantino is not endorsing anything about the current war because it is a different war. Any other conclusion would have to be based on information from outside of the context of the movie.

    This movie does endorse justified violence. Whether some other acts of violence outside the film are justified or not is irrelevant to the review of this film.

    The “Nation’s Pride” film was about killing Allied soldiers in Italy, Americans. There is a scene with Americans speaking.

  • Wooster182

    I pretty much was disappointed by every aspect of this film. There were some good moments and I did really like the final few scenes, but overall, I thought it was a waste of talent.

    QT focused on silly shots. Why did we need to see the cream twice in the restaurant? Was it supposed to be a metaphor for the milk and the way Shoshanna’s family died? What was his point?

    We all know QT is known for his lengthy dialogue but that’s in English where we can hear the flow of it. Having to read word after word became exhausting and it lost all meaning as QT dialogue. Now, I’m not one to skip subtitled films, but don’t beat me to death with words for 3 hours. His dialogue is the kind that needs to be heard.

    I knew it would be a long flick. All of his are. But he stretched out scenes needlessly. The banging of the baseball bat went way too long without causing any tension or fear. The guy didn’t sound like he was coming any closer until the last few seconds. And why try to make the guy afraid when he wasn’t? Plus, how did he hear Brad Pitt’s instructions to come kill him if he was that far away in the tunnel? It made no sense.

    Also, the casting choices were ridiculous. Eli Roth is, sadly, an even worse actor than QT himself. He completely pulled me out of the movie.

    BJ Novak was quite good at his Office schtick, but we don’t even get acquainted with his character until the last twenty minutes.

    Which leads me to the next problem: The film title is The Inglorious Basterds. We are to assume by the previews as well and the fact that Brad Pitt is in the film, that the film will actually be about the Basterds. I went into the film expecting 3 hours of watching them do their thing in France, seeing depth from each character, and getting to know their personalities. But we get almost none of that.

    We know what they do and that the Germans fear them, but other than that, they are basically insignificant in the film. We see so little of them that I get confused trying to remember if the spies throughout the film are them or someone else. They are merely used as an instrument to tie up the end of the film. They’re kind of like the car in the Dukes of Hazard. They’re just there.

    I also found it simple-minded that if a Nazi could figure out from how one held their fingers if they were a spy or not, then how would the brilliant Hans not be able to recognize a Tennessee accent speaking Italian words? Of course he did, but if Lt. Aldo Rayne (Sp?)is so good at killin’ Nazis, then wouldn’t he even *try* to mask his voice. Of course he would know that they’d know he wasn’t Italian. The scene set up a cheap laugh but it was ridiculous to ask the audience to buy into it.

    *spoiler* And I’m sorry, but I’m a stickler for leaving history as it is and the ending of the film is just ridiculous. I’m waiting for a dream-sequence; a fade out and in to a high school classroom of a teacher telling her students that that could have happened if…Not actually happening. And I get, Mary Jane, the idea of the film just being a fantasy, but I would rather see QT choose a more realistic setting and make something great out of it (Defiance comes to mind).

    I was also disappointed at the lack of depth with storylines. It would have been interesting had they made at least one Nazi sympathetic. A good guy in a tough situation. I realize the dad at the bar was, but I thought they had a unique opportunity with Daniel and they just decided to go with the basest option of making him the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    Also, every time I was waiting for that moment of greatness from a character or the Inglorious bunch, it just wasn’t there. The actress died before she could do anything intelligent. The SS soldier turned IB was supposed to have this incredible reputation for killing Nazis and he dies in the first battle we see him in with little fanfare.

    The narrator comes out of nowhere. He’s not a character we recognize, so why is he talking? Who is he? Why can he talk to us? And why do we see a clip of movie about film canisters on a trolley? Is that really necessary? I’m not stupid. If you tell me that you can’t take film on a train, I’ll believe you. Again, where did the movie come from? Are we supposed to recognize it? Why use it?

    I felt like QT is in love with himself and the way he makes movies. And he tried so hard to make us love it too, as did Brad Pitt who is evidently pining for someone to finally give him an award. Apparently there’s a lot of love for this movie, but I just don’t see it.

    The only cool fight scene is at the end with the wrist machine gun. It’s the only one that gets true attention like a good fight scene should. Everything else seemed like premature ejaculation over and over again for 165 minutes.

  • John R.

    Which leads me to the next problem: The film title is The Inglorious Basterds. We are to assume by the previews as well and the fact that Brad Pitt is in the film, that the film will actually be about the Basterds. I went into the film expecting 3 hours of watching them do their thing in France, seeing depth from each character, and getting to know their personalities. But we get almost none of that.

    But it was about Basterds. Though Brad Pitt didn’t have a whole lot of screen time, every single person was involved in their plan in one way or another. The only major character who isn’t directly a related is Dreyfus, and yet considering her plan and actions she is probably closer to being a basterd than some of the lesser characters like BJ Novak.

    We know what they do and that the Germans fear them, but other than that, they are basically insignificant in the film. We see so little of them that I get confused trying to remember if the spies throughout the film are them or someone else. They are merely used as an instrument to tie up the end of the film. They’re kind of like the car in the Dukes of Hazard. They’re just there.

    Again, “Basterds” can be an idea. At the beginning when they enlist Hugo, a German soldier, they do so because he hates and kills Nazis despite the fact that he isn’t Jewish-American. Inglorious Basterds doesn’t necessarily have to apply just to Brad Pitt and his team.

    I also found it simple-minded that if a Nazi could figure out from how one held their fingers if they were a spy or not, then how would the brilliant Hans not be able to recognize a Tennessee accent speaking Italian words?

    He obviously knew, and the audience knew not because of his penchant for language, but because he was playing with them by flaunting his fluent Italian in their face. Which was a much better way of showing it than say having the camera move to his face as he squints conceringly.

    Also, every time I was waiting for that moment of greatness from a character or the Inglorious bunch, it just wasn’t there. The actress died before she could do anything intelligent. The SS soldier turned IB was supposed to have this incredible reputation for killing Nazis and he dies in the first battle we see him in with little fanfare.

    I can agree with you here since this is more of a matter of taste. However I didn’t have a problem with it because Landa (who I thought was the best part of the film) is filled with such moments of brilliance, cunning, and greatness in practically every scene he’s in. And that makes Pitt’s victory at the end so much more crushing than it should have been considering how simple it was.

    The narrator comes out of nowhere. He’s not a character we recognize, so why is he talking? Who is he?

    He’s Samuel Jackson!

    I do agree with a lot of what you said though. Many characters are underutilized and many of the shots and effects are there purely to be interesting, but it’s because of all this that make the movie good in my eyes. From what I read it seems like you came in expecting and intellectual look on the ideas of revenge and hypocrisy in a bleak WWII setting which may be why you were disappointed. I came in expecting expecting another WWII move with Taratino’s usual feet, dialogue, violence, and trunk shots thrown in. But instead I got a really funny comedy that had Nazis in it. The narration, old movie reels, and other effects where there purely for comedic effect in a comedic movie. It’s not there to explain what was just said, nor is it random humour, it’s funny, related to the scene and unexpected which is probably the most important thing in comedy. It’s different and enjoyable. I honestly did not see the ending to the theatre scene happening because there isn’t a single WWII movie where it does happen. Had every WWII movie with Hitler included a shot with someones face looking like a block of cheese, it wouldn’t have been funny.

  • John R.

    Also in regards to there being no sympathetic Nazis, there was Willhelm. He was a father, polite, followed on his agreement, amiably drunk, and only wanted to see his son. In fact he was probably the nicest character in the film. Nobody cared when von Hammersmark died because she shot the defenseless Willy.

  • Karla

    While I did really like the film and I think this is one of QT’s better films, I felt there were a couple plot holes or at least some loose ends that keep the movie from getting close to great. Maybe this has been referenced in interviews and maybe it’ll show up on DVD, but I feel like there should be a lot more of the movie that was cut out to shorten it up.

    (SPOILER) I couldn’t figure out towards the end of the movie how a 3 man team seamingly turned into a foursome. I kept wondering where the 4th guy came from. Also the scene with the cream & strudel seemed like it was building to something (or a couple things) but then little came of it besides that is was simply a suspenseful scene. I know QT wanted to show with this movie he could create suspense but, such as with that scene, I wish it served the greater plot better. It was very good but it could have been better. I also agree he created certain characters just to be cool in one scene, but then they go on to act like very different people in other scenes, which totally bugged. To me, that all helps to keep the movie from reaching that next level of greatness, but overall it’s a huge improvement for QT.

  • Lisa

    yeah allied soldiers sorry total blonde moment

  • MaryAnn

    Tarantino is not endorsing anything about the current war because it is a different war. Any other conclusion would have to be based on information from outside of the context of the movie.

    Whether or not Tarantino intended to say anything about the current wars is one issue. Whether one can read things into the film is another matter entirely. But to suggest that we do not bring in our outside context when we go to the movies is ridiculous. Of course we do. Movies are not made in a vacuum, and they are not seen in a vacuum.

    This movie does endorse justified violence.

    See, I think the movie asks us to consider what is “justified” and what isn’t… or at least to consider that our enemies may consider something justified that we would not agree with. If it’s okay to cheer on Jews killing Nazis, then isn’t it okay if Nazi cheer on the killing of Americans?

  • Paul

    Of course, read things into a film if you want and when you can but just properly attribute yourself as the author of that meaning when it has to be imported by a process of “reading into”.

    I can certainly understand why Nazis would cheer at an on-screen Nazi war hero. That behavior is realistic, plausible, motivated, in-character and justified on their terms. Differences in what the Allies and the Nazis considered justified were real and were the causes of the war in the first place.

    I remember Maximus in Gladiator taunting two audiences simultaneously with his “Are you entertained?” That scene worked because the violence depicted there had no other justification than entertainment, and both audiences were seeking entertainment. In Basterds there are again two audiences seeking entertainment but two different acts of violence are being witnessed, each justified by a different moral system. Asserting an equivalence between the two audiences here is understandable coming from pacifist but if killing Nazis is objectionable then that illustrates why most people are not pacifists.

    The “films are dangerous” theme in this movie doesn’t come from violence latent in the film stock but from the ideas put on film. The power of ideas is that what people permit themselves to think leads to what they permit themselves to do. Recognizing the humanity in Nazis throws a spotlight on the only remaining difference which is their ideas. If Nazis won’t be reasoned with then they should be destroyed because they must be stopped.

  • wooster182

    Samuel “Motherfucking” Jackson? How in the hell did I miss that?!

    My point is still valid, however. Where did he come from?

    Thanks for the post, John. You actually do make me feel better about the title of the film. I hadn’t thought of it in that way.

    I had come into the moving fearing that it would be too bloody, so he was smart to shy away from that this time with this genre.

    I just wish that if he was going to focus on certain stories that he would have given more depth to the characters. We see little flashes of a lot of people with only Hans as the only connection (maybe why he is the most fascinating character in the film).

    I thought I was going to go on a journey and I left the movie feeling like I never went anywhere.

  • wooster182 (Wed Aug 26 09, 2:55PM):

    Samuel “Motherfucking” Jackson? How in the hell did I miss that?!

    My point is still valid, however. Where did he come from?

    Where did he come from? Shit, he sprang out fully grown from the mind of Zeus, motherfucker!

    The Sam Jackson narration was awesome, and it was there precisely to be awesome; to make you go “holy shit, that’s sam jackson!” — just for fun. Also, if you prefer, it serves to remind you you’re watching a piece of fiction, and helps prepare you for some of the wild detours the film takes from real history.

    But I prefer the “awesome” explanation better.

  • Grinebiter

    I’m reading this to be informed, though I dislike QT and don’t intend to see the film; and I have a question. What does the film, and what do the contributors here, mean by “Nazis”? SS troops and members of the Party? Or Wehrmacht? Or Germans?

    I would be disappointed were it the third option. Only 32% of Germans voted for the NDSAP in the last free election, and the army was raised by conscription, so it is reasonable to assume that only about 32% of the army that was old enough to vote in 1933 were NDSAP voters. Bump it up to 50% say for the youngsters who came to maturity under the Third Reich. Of course, we had to fight the Germans as a people and the Wehrmacht as an army to get rid of the Nazis as rulers, but I still don’t like the confusion of categories here. Should we, in 2005, have denoted the US Army and the whole American people as “Bushies”?

    Tell me it ain’t so!

  • The definition of a Nazi in Inglourious Basterds is simple: anyone wearing a Nazi uniform.

    Not that it matters, since you’ve said you aren’t going to watch the film. Sounds like you have awful taste in movies, honestly. How can you not like a single QT film? Not even Jackie Brown?

    You probably haven’t even seen Jackie Brown, have you?

  • Grinebiter

    @Newbs: there was no such thing as a “Nazi uniform”. The SA had uniforms in the pre-war days, and the SS had uniforms — the black stuff with the double lightning flash. If you mean that the film’s definition of “Nazi” is anyone wearing a SS uniform, fair enough. If you mean anyone wearing a Wehrmacht uniform, you are an ignoramus.

    Answer to your ASSuming, question is “twice”.

  • Grinebiter (Thu Aug 27 09, 1:10PM):

    @Newbs: there was no such thing as a “Nazi uniform”.

    Not my problem, buddy. I’m just telling you the answer to your question.

    If you mean anyone wearing a Wehrmacht uniform, you are an ignoramus.

    No, you are the ignoramus, I’m afraid. You asked a question about the movie and I answered it. Take your History gripes up with Tarantino.

    Next, you’ll ask me what District 9 considers to be an “alien” and I’ll tell you “it’s the creepy bug dudes who came off the spaceship”. Then you’ll respond “there are no such things as creepy bug dudes or spaceships” and call me an idiot. In this example it will be you, again, who is actually the idiot.

    Now, can’t we just be nice to each other? It’s not my fault you don’t want to see good movies.

  • Grinebiter

    You want me to be nice to you, then you don’t answer a civil question with snarks like “You probably haven’t even seen Jackie Brown, have you?”

    And if Tarantino had invented his own allohistorical uniforms, so that there was a “Nazi” one, well, fair enough, but you could have informed me thereof in a civil manner.

    No, I’m not going to be nice to you, or for that matter nasty to you; I am going to ignore you, and talk instead with folks like Accounting Ninja, with whom I just had a vigorous but friendly debate. You could learn a lot from her.

  • Finally saw it today.

    *MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT*

    I remember this review long ago for “Starship Troopers,” I think it was in EW, where the reviewer said the movie made sense by realizing “this is what Star Wars would have looked if the Nazis had won.” Well, this movie is the inverse: Inglorious Basterds is what a Nazi War film would have looked if the Allies won.

    …yeah, I know. Go with it…

    The whole movie is essentially Quentin’s tribute to the made-as-it-was-really-happening WWII movies between ’42 and ’45. Just imagine this was a movie in production on the Hollywood backlot in early 1944… the odds that by the time this flick hit the theaters our boys would be charging onto the shores of Calais… and playing out the ruthless war fantasy that brave Americans led by a Tennessee-born Apache (!) teamed with nobly suffering French Jewish resistance fighters plotted the capture and execution of the Nazi Overlords. Just close your mind to the history books, don’t remember what happened after June 6 1944 and just imagine this as the type of film American audiences would be seeing (well, sans the bloodshed and beer drinking (see the trivia entry for “Ice Cold In Alex” to understand that ref))… it partly explains why discussion about the death camps don’t even come up, public knowledge about them didn’t come until 1945…

    When I finished watching this movie, I checked off all the war films I knew from that era that echoed the plot and its resolution: Bogart’s “Sahara,” Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn’s “Desperate Journey” (5 downed Allied pilots take on the whole Third Reich AND WIN), and the British propanganda “Went the Day Well?” And not to mention another Bogart movie… a classic… there’s even an unforgettable song related to it… hold on, it’s coming to me… nah, maybe MaryAnn can name it. Anyway, each of those movies made before the end of the world war was certain, yet drawn in clear lines of good/evil black/white. It’s just this is a Tarantino movie after all, made after the 1960s, which is morally blurred and shades of gray.

    My only gripe: not know the fate of Shoshanna’s film projectionist/lover Marcel. It would have been cool to see him escape at the end as the Ishmael character, and that the narrator was a son/grandson passing on the war story to the next generation…

  • Grinebiter (Thu Aug 27 09, 3:11PM):

    You want me to be nice to you, then you don’t answer a civil question with snarks like “You probably haven’t even seen Jackie Brown, have you?”

    And if Tarantino had invented his own allohistorical uniforms, so that there was a “Nazi” one, well, fair enough, but you could have informed me thereof in a civil manner.

    I tried, my dear. First, there’s no specific differentiation in the film between a “nazi” uniform and an “ss” uniform or any variation thereof. There are all different kinds of uniforms, sure, but placing each in its distinct historical place isn’t really a priority in Inglourious Basterds. And I’m sorry I don’t know as much about history and uniforms as you, but I didn’t realize I had to explain it any more specifically than that.

    **SPOILERS**
    Uniforms are actually an important subject in the film, specifically how they can be taken off and discarded after the war. The phrase “Nazi uniform” is used quite often, without regard to rank, branch, race, creed, or breakfast preference. I don’t know what to tell you other than that. If you’ve got some kind of historical-slash-semantic quibble with this, unfortunately I can’t help you.
    **END SPOILERS**

    The point here is: because you refuse to watch the movie you interpreted my answer as glib, when in actuality it’s perfectly appropriate… and yet since I apparently don’t know much about Nazis and their uniforms, or Germans and theirs, you called me an ignoramus. All I’m trying to do is give you a helpful answer (and a little playful ribbing about your taste in movies, the implication of which is that if you’ve seen Jackie Brown you’d recognize Tarantino’s brilliance), without going into specifics so as to keep spoilers to a minimum. If you interpret that as uncivil, or unfriendly, or unintelligent, well there’s nothing I can do except drive on by.

    But wait… You saw Jackie Brown twice and you still don’t like Quentin Tarantino? We live on two different planets, my friend. That shit is classic.

  • PaulW (Thu Aug 27 09, 4:28PM):

    It would have been cool to see him escape at the end as the Ishmael character, and that the narrator was a son/grandson passing on the war story to the next generation…

    Hmmm… I don’t know about this. I don’t think the narration was supposed to be linear, any more than the story’s resolution was supposed to be factual. In order to tie the narration to Marcel, there’d have to be a lot more of it. Personally, I kinda like it that there’s just a couple segments of “just how badass is this guy” type narration, and only when necessary.

    As for Marcel, maybe there’s some more with him in the longer version Tarantino showed at Cannes? I wouldn’t mind seeing that extra footage, even if it does pad the film a bit.

  • Les Carr

    I just sat through this with my teenage son, who is a QT fan. I am QT ambivalent, and this movie hasn’t changed my opinion. The experience for me was like going shoe shopping with my wife – one of us is excited and engaged but the other just wants it to be over. IB is a war movie with a full complement of Nazis, but it’s got precious little action (violent or comedic), only routine moral ambivalence and very very very long setups.

    Landa started off compelling and ubercreepy, but ultimately he was only a comic book fantasy super-villain – a bit like all those Gestapo officers who hang around bars noticing unconvincing accents. I don’t agree that Zoller was wrestling with a good side – he was just a self-important creep on the pull.

    I did enjoy Mike Myers and the incompetent English contribution to the war effort with its over-detailed “three finger giveaway”. I also take my hat off to the genre-busting ending. Still, I would gladly have seen the film without any of the Basterds in it – chapters 1, 3 and 5.

  • I was curious about the Nazi/Wehrmacht distinction myself, and on my second viewing I paid attention and noted that EVERY German killed by the Basterds was a Nazi. Even the grunts were Waffen-SS, not Wehrmacht Heer. Indeed, it looked to me like the only Wehrmacht soldier was Hugo Stiglitz, who became one of the Basterds.

  • Sara

    WARNING: SPOILERS

    It’s been about a week since I’ve seen this film, and I’m still smitten. I loved it loved it loved it. I was, at first, hesitant to see it, being wary of any movie that incorporates humor and Holocaust. But wow wow wow. I won’t soon forget the colonel’s performance, especially in that opening scene. And I loved so much, too, how the film incriminated the audience in its bloodlust. How the film both satiated our desires to see Nazi leaders and their most illustrious followers die through its alternate reality, to see such a gruesome war end in one night–its momentary rewriting of painful history–and yet still reminded us how bloodthirsty we all can be, how much both we and the basterds who shot Hitler *relished* in those deaths (even just for a moment, if we were completely involved in the narrative and not a skeptical outsider). And even the over-the-topness of that ending, how we had fire, explosion, and rifle-shots even though we didn’t need all three — it all created both catharsis and uneasiness simultaneously. And then how the ending was in a movie theatre, the screen and the red curtain burning like our own (I was in an old L.A. theatre that actually had a red curtain) — it hit that element home for me. I do wonder if this is his masterpiece. I loved Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, but I dunno. This is pretty up there, for me.

  • Jolly

    I enjoyed it enough in the theater, but ultimately found it slight. By opting for his traditional episodic structure and hopping across genres, Tarantino effectively drained any emotional investment I had in any of the characters by the final chapter. So while the earlier scene with Landa and Shosanna in the cafe was one of the best I have ever seen, it was largely negated by what followed. Or perhaps not, if one accepts that Tarantino movies are always about the parts, rather than the whole. Nevertheless, I wish Tarantino would actually opt for a “serious” movie, because this movie suggests to me that he could do very well indeed.

  • Sara

    Jolly, I can see where you’re coming from. I guess I was so pleased because, after seeing the trailer, I came into this movie expecting to not really *deeply* identify with characters on an emotional level (along with the expectation of not appreciating humor in a Holocaust film), yet I found myself seriously caring for Shosanna. My main complaint about the film is that they didn’t come back to Shosanna enough — I wanted more of her story and less of the Basterds’. At the end, I found I cared much for her and a lot less about anyone else in the film, as if QT should have focused more on her personally story, much in the way he focused on The Bride. Maybe the very presence of Shosanna ended up being a make-or-break for me; I don’t believe she was even featured in the trailer at all. Because QT introduced this character I respected and cared for so early (the opening scene), the Basterds themselves didn’t need to be developed as much. Maybe I just appreciated her ruthlessness and her unwillingness to compromise. Either way, I was emotionally attached to her to the end, even with the episodic structure and genre-bending of the film.

  • Sara

    *personal, not personally (obviously)

  • Jolly

    *Spoilers Alert*

    Sara, it occurs to me that my real problem is that I didn’t really buy into Shosanna’s transition between the third chapter and the end. Or perhaps I did, and part of that transition involved accepting that revenge would inevitably involve her death, so that I didn’t feel any mourning for the character when it actually happened (any mourning happened earlier and was cut short by moving to a chapter not involving her). In any case, Melanie Laurent’s performance was superb. And to think that she spoke French the entire time…

  • I think this film is quite specifically about the way we scapegoat movie villains. I mean, a bunch of people are getting brutally and violently murdered by a group of psychos, but it’s totally OK to root for them, because the people being murdered are Nazis. Even though these are among the more sympathetic Nazis we’ve seen on screen, and even though Aldo and the Basterds are pretty much borderline psychopaths, it’s “alright” because of the context. Tarantino basically amps up this situation and throws it in our face, making us think about screen violence and why we cheer it.

    …Which, it seems to me, has been a consistent theme of most of his work, and not something that sets Basterds apart neccessarily.

  • James Rivera

    I have been a reader of your site for quite a while now, maryann. I am also a die hard Tarantino fan. And I must say that even though I strongly disagree with you about the Kill bill films, I must say that you’re scathing review of kill bill vol. 2 has to be one of the funniest, sharpest, and most entertaining reviews I have read in quite some time. I’m just curious as to what you think of his early films, “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction’, as they are the only Tarantino films not reviewed on your site. I would just like to hear your opinion about those two films, and hopefully maybe one day you could write reviews for those films.

  • Frenk

    My feeling was quite a bit different from MJ’s. I thought Basterds worked, but found its attempts at being deep … well, attempts, not successes.

    Basterds’ story is weak and disjointed, and most of the characters are flat and cliche. Most of the jokes and tension-building tricks are so obvious you’re basically waiting for them to happen — but without real tension, just resignation. “Does Tarantino really think we’re so much dumber than he is?” was my feeling much of the time.

    Tarantino’s commentary about film within the film blah blah blah is just so obvious — anyone who has sat through a film history course has seen the same things much more subtly before.

    That the film ultimately works as entertainment is a tribute to Tarantino’s ability to make an action picture, and Basterds works on the level of action: blood flies, things burn, and revenge — the sweetest of sweetmeats — makes the ending satisfying.

    But trying to find a deeper meaning without pushing hard for it? You’d have about equal luck trying to find a real narrative in Basterds.

  • Gloria

    Sorry, I just saw it this past Sunday, and I came here looking for a review.

    Thought I’d say to Karla:

    “Also the scene with the cream & strudel seemed like it was building to something (or a couple things) but then little came of it besides that is was simply a suspenseful scene.”

    That was the point. Not everything suspenseful in real life “pays off” or builds to anything — it merely dissipates.

    Contrary to some who think the shots of cream and strudel were superfluous, I thought it was wonderful how we focused on small, seemingly unimportant things. When you are gripped by emotion, sometimes things become more obvious, greater in relief, your senses heightened by the adrenalin running through your body.

    It also felt like Shoshanna was trying to put her mind away from the fact she was sitting across from her family’s murderer, and distracting herself by looking at simple, neutral objects. However, the fact one of those objects was cream was a terrible blow, considering she was, after all, the daughter of a dairy farmer. It was sad … not pointless.

  • Boingo

    The ominous opening farmhouse scene sticks with me. That was so well crafted.That was produced “straight.”
    Then, things got loose and nutty.
    Oh well, it’s Quentin’s “stamp.”
    But that Landa guy is laden with talent.

  • questioner

    To the critic: I wonder if you have picked up a newspaper or turned on a news channel in the last few years. Where in our world today do you see evidence to suggest that the ever-escalating violence in our pop culture, amped up regularly by Mr. Tarantino in his juvenile, if not mentally ill “art”, has remained on film? It hasn’t, it isn’t, and it won’t. Freedom of expression does not release one from the responsibility of humaneness. When Tarantino makes filth like this, as he regularly does, all he is doing is giving his fans permission to see the person sitting next to them in the theatre as “the other”, and to act accordingly. Clint Eastwood made a career out of it, but at least had the restraint to leave most of the blood off-screen. Tarantino may try to wrap this trash in a ribbon by suggesting at the end that we shouldn’t be laughing at it, but that’s like a porno film which ends with the naked lady getting up and telling us we shouldn’t dehumanize sexuality. It is simply unacceptable to any thoughtful, humane person. Why not you?

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    Where in our world today do you see evidence to suggest that the ever-escalating violence in our pop culture, amped up regularly by Mr. Tarantino in his juvenile, if not mentally ill “art”, has remained on film?

    I’m not MaryAnn, but I’m going to answer this. I see absolutely no evidence, other than the fearmongering blasts of our media that you put so much faith into, that society is more violent than it has been in previous years. The difference is that we’re frightened by modern violence, whereas historical violence, whether it’s the Vikings, Al Capone or ‘Scuttlers’, is either seen as quaint or brushed away under the carpet as unrepresentative of its time. Once, people talked of gang fights between mods and rockers as being a sign of the downfall of society. Nowadays it’s nostalgia fodder.

    Where there is serious violence in our society, you’ll notice that it tends to cluster in the areas with a poor educational infrastructure and desperate poverty. If you want people to believe that films, rather than poverty, is the motor of social dysfunction, your task is to prove that Quentin Tarantino is more popular in low-income areas. I don’t think you will be able to do this.

    When Tarantino makes filth like this, as he regularly does, all he is doing is giving his fans permission to see the person sitting next to them in the theatre as “the other”, and to act accordingly.

    You seriously believe this? And you’re accusing other people of being mentally ill? For the record, I have seen three Quentin Tarantino films at the cinema, and not once have I felt empowered to kill the person sat next to me. Nor have any of the many, many other admirers of his work I have met. This is because, unlike you it seems, fans of violent films tend to be able to tell the difference between fiction and reality.

  • Paul

    Ever escalating violence in our pop culture? Gee, let me think, two Transformers movies, two Predator movies, three Spiderman movies, three X-Men movies, four Lethal Weapon movies, four Die Hard movies, four Terminator movies, five Superman movies, six Batman movies … how many Alien movies? I lost track. And oh, yeah, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galatica…

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    And what about the viewer that isn’t caught in the bloodlust of the film? What impression does it leave them with?
    Just saw this for the first time, and if there was any indictment of bloodlust it doesn’t have the prominence that it supposedly has. The movie IS bloodlust in the end.
    Tarantino tries to make us sympathetic to the Basterds by making them try so hard to be likeable psychopaths. He gives us the cues so we know we are supposed to like them, and the cues to know so-and-so who needs to be vanquished is either going to be or escape, no in-betweens, so of course we want the psychopaths’ success, we only have a binary choice. It’s not as if Tarantino even gets close to those “grey area” questions of right and wrong.
    In the end, this film even gives intellectuals the permission to go for the throat, and enjoy it, as long as they believe the ends to be just, and this should be easy since according to his film, the world is built on an easily-decoded binary. Thing is, boring things like ethics and morals exist because the world is more complicated than that, and they help us navigate it with more precision and chance of success. This is not a “be thoughful and clever” message he is sending. The prominent message is “the enemy will go for the throat, so you do it faster and better.” If that wasn’t the intent, he failed.

  • Robert P

    Just saw this for the first time yesterday, found it extremely engaging.

    You really felt the oppression of the French as Shosanna was made a coerced “guest” of the Nazis. I thought it was great character development when Zoller ultimately shed his charming pretty-boy facade and revealed that he was in fact just another Nazi bully son of a bitch who felt entitled to abuse people.

    I doubt this was all just pretend. I’m sure there were those who exacted brutal revenge on Nazis and I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t even think of calling the actions of the Basterds war crimes. Someone feels “national pride” in their role in perpetrating atrocities? Fuck ’em.

    Lest we forget, the Germans weren’t alone in perpetrating brutality, the Japanese committed many horrors as well.

  • Robert P

    The Axis’ ravaging of much of the globe was probably as close to black and white as it will ever get. A large number of people were following a deranged leader and murdering and/or subjugating large numbers of other people, a huge portion of them based on their heritage. Ever heard of Josef Mengele? No, not every German was a wild-eyed monster, but Hitler was only able to come to power because there were a lot of those who rooted for him. There was a large base of resentment toward Jews. Legions of people were complicit in the perpetration of the Holocaust.

    Also look into some of the partying Japan was doing. Familiar with what happened at Nanking, China among other places?

    Exactly how much “sympathy” is anyone supposed to feel for someone like Landa? And there were a lot of those like him.

    The kind of equivocation you’re expressing is exactly what Hitler preyed upon and took advantage of.

    And ultimately you’re wrong anyway. Sure there were “in-betweens”. They gave that officer the chance to live if he gave them the positions of troops. He proved to be a defiant, unrepentant minion of der Fuhrer, so they brutally killed him, successfully persuading the remaining soldier to tell them what they wanted to know.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    I didn’t express equivocation, but a commitment to sound principles and rules that require some critical thought. That’s not fence-sitting. A rejection of binary thinking is NOT an acceptance of amorality, in fact it is necessary for a more robust morality. Binary thinking IS what allowed the Holocaust to occur and gave the Axis their support. Binary thinking promotes an unquestioning of authority: check out the Third Wave experiment in California in the late 1960s when a class of high school students were led through the type of indoctrination experienced by Hitler’s Youth. An ability to see needs and issues in their complexity helps us to AVOID moral hazards. The youth in this experiment were drawn to the Third Wave because it offered them a sense of belonging. Identity and autonomy were forfeited just for that security. They sought a simple solution at great cost, whereas careful analysis would have asked, “Why am I doing this? Is this the only way I can find community and belonging? How can I seek for belonging without treading on the rights of others and without losing my own personal agency?” Some careful questions could have dug those students out of their singular perspectives, it would have done the same for the majority of people who supported the Third Reich. Jew=bad is binary, stupid thinking. And the Inglorious Basterds were deeply engaged in their own stupidity, being on the “right” side of history does not immune one from it.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    It wasn’t just Germans or Japanese who perpetuated brutality. You’ll find that every Nazi-occupied country did their own share of it. In France, The Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, etc., neighbors ratted on neighbors. Family members were taken away, and after the war, the known traitors frequently went freely about their lives alongside the grieving families they betrayed. This is a major aspect that is overlooked in history but played an enormous role in devastating people for generations. Look at the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in Paris which was executed by French Police. Thousands and thousands of Jews and other “undesirables” were ripped out of their homes BY the French and shipped off to Auschwitz.

    We could reasonably suppose that there were occupied citizens who perpetuated atrocities, Nazi soldiers, and Germans who did the same. But that does not mean they all did. Blind vengeance is dangerous, stupid, and can also perpetuate more atrocities upon the innocent.

  • Robert P

    the Inglorious Basterds were deeply engaged in their own stupidity

    What do you see as their stupidity?

  • Robert P

    To the critic: I wonder if you have picked up a newspaper or turned on a news channel in the last few years.

    …all he is doing is giving his fans permission to see the person sitting next to them in the theatre as “the other”

    Have you picked up a newspaper or turned on a news channel in the last several thousand years? This proclivity has existed in humanity since long, long before QT or cinema existed.

    The entire sports industry is predicated on it – “Us against them” based primarily on geographic happenstance, or where one happened to go to school. And the manifestation of sports fandom frequently goes way beyond “just in fun”.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    Simply put: bloodlust.

  • Robert P

    I’m curious, what do you see as the appropriate way to deal with an intruder who’s broken into your home and is in the process of harming you or your family?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’m curious

    Liar. Your phrasing here is mendacious and bait-y, and your oh-so-carefully framed hypothetical is irrelevant to the point Rebecca is making. Try again. Try harder.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    Stop them, with violence if necessary. That’s not merely what they did, though. My next door neighbors still have in their back yard the WW2 bunker that our village built for its protection…there’s about 8 names of inhabitants of this tiny village who died in that war posted next to the school, several with the same last name. I’m quite close to the reality of what the Nazi’s did, in case you think I’m not.

  • Robert P

    You really suck at mind-reading.

  • Robert P

    And I see you went right to shrill invective this time, dispensing with your usual preliminaries.

  • Danielm80

    There’s a lot of middle ground between pacifism and “I love scalping people and smashing their heads with a baseball bat.” It’s possible to oppose Hitler and the Nazis without feeling the sort of bloodlust that we saw in the film.

    Either you know that and you’re pretending you don’t, to support your argument, in which case you’re a troll; or you think there are only two binary, extremist choices, in which case you’re an idiot.

    No matter what you were thinking when you made your argument, it has very little to do with anything Rebecca said.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I don’t have to read your mind. I’m just on to your shtick. It’s not that hard, Bobby. You’re trying one of two cheap rhetorical tactics: either you want her to say she would use lethal violence (in which case you try to claim to have caught her in some kind of logical inconsistency) or you want her to claim she wouldn’t use lethal violence (in which case you can brand her some kind of radical pacifist). It’s all a re-framing device, trying to change the terms of the discussion. And I know that’s what you’re doing, because you’ve done it before. Repeatedly.

    Like I said: try again. Try harder.

  • Robert P

    Dr. Strangelove’s braying aside, I was curious if you’re some pacifist to whom the notion of harming someone else even in self-defense is unthinkable.

    boring things like ethics and morals exist because the world is more complicated than that

    Those at the helm in Nazi Germany and a large number of those who carried out their scheme didn’t give the first fuck about the ethics and morals that would say there was any problem with their actions.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    And? Bc they didn’t we should not either???

  • Robert P

    And? Bc they didn’t we should not either???

    No one said people shouldn’t care about morals and ethics. You don’t stop malevolent, murdering thugs by singing Kumbaya to them.

  • Danielm80

    Are you even reading the comments you’re responding to? Rebecca already talked about how she’d respond to the Nazis, and contrasted it with the response of the Basterds:

    Stop them, with violence if necessary. That’s not merely what they did, though.

    The reason some of us get so infuriated with your comments is that you’re arguing with imaginary talking points in your head, rather than engaging in actual discussion.

  • Robert P

    Are you even reading the comments you’re responding to?

    Yup.

    The reason some of us get so infuriated with your comments is that…

    …you don’t like what I have to say.

  • Danielm80

    I obviously don’t like what you have to say. But what’s frustrating me is that we’re talking about genuinely important issues, like the way we respond to violence and–on other threads–the way women are treated in our society, and you keep choosing to ignore the actual facts, even when they’re right in front of you. For example, several people pointed out that 70% of films these days are about men, and only 15% have female leads. You said: Well, I’ve personally seen a whole bunch of films about women, so it’s not a problem. If you think people are responding to you with invective, comments like that–and the ones on this thread–may be the reason why.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I was curious if you’re some pacifist to whom the notion of harming someone else even in self-defense is unthinkable.

    See? No mind reading needed at all.

    Those at the helm in Nazi Germany and a large number of those who carried out their scheme didn’t give the first fuck about the ethics and morals that would say there was any problem with their actions.

    Of course not. They believed they were beholden to a superior moral and ethical framework. Not even the Nazis are cartoon villains. True nihilists and sociopaths exist, I’m sure, but seldom do they form the kind of organizations that could lead post-WWI Germany out of the wilderness and back into a position as a premier world military and industrial power.

  • But you lose if you become the new malevolent, murdering thugs.

  • Robert P

    Brutality in stopping murderous thugs is completely different than the brutality the thugs initiate – I don’t think you’re ever going to accept that given that you’re a self-described pacifist. Not knowing exactly what your concept is of a pacifist of course.

  • Robert P

    “..I was curious if you’re some pacifist to whom the notion of harming someone else even in self-defense is unthinkable…”

    See? No mind reading needed at all.

    Yeah, bullshit. My purpose has nothing to do with what you were asserting.

  • Robert P

    It’s possible to oppose Hitler and the Nazis without feeling the sort of bloodlust that we saw in the film.

    I suppose it’s possible, I propose it’s not common or even normal.

  • SaltHarvest

    “They believed they were beholden to a superior moral and ethical framework.”

    That was a multitude of deceptions aimed at the pre-Nazi establishment in order to rise to power. Sociopaths and psychopaths are easier for their masters to trust since concepts like empathy are scarcely likely to interfere with carrying out their commands. Beyond that and you’re dealing with forces who’d rather make their own frameworks when convenient (self-service).

  • Now you’re confused about to whom you’re responding.

  • Robert P

    What makes you think I’m confused about who I’m responding to? In your review you refer to yourself as a pacifist liberal.

  • Because I jumped in in the middle of a conversation you were having with someone else, I mistakenly believed you thought you were responding to the original commenter. Sorry.

    It’s rather terrifying that you don’t seem to think there is any room between “thuggish brutality” and “total pacificism.”

  • Robert P

    I’m saying the measures should meet the circumstances. The German army was responsible for perpetration of atrocities as a function of national policy. They were killing those who tried to stop them. And this wasn’t the first time Germany had done this shit.

    Recall Saving Private Ryan – they let the German soldier go, to be “compassionate” – and how did that turn out? You wanna bet there weren’t real-life scenarios just like that?

    You’re just proving exactly what I said – your brain won’t wrap itself around the fact that the German hierarchy simply didn’t give a fuck. If they did, they wouldn’t have been doing it in the first place. They needed to be stopped and stopped hard.

    Maybe some of the German soldiers weren’t as committed to the cause as others but with your life and the lives of your fellow soldiers on the line as well as those of their potential future victims, it doesn’t pay to try and guess which of them aren’t as hard-core as the others. If they’re dead it removes all question as to whether they’re going to continue to harm others. Their job was to dismantle the German war machine, not be guidance counselors.

    If you tell some motherfucker you’ve captured who’s been engaged in wholesale slaughter as his occupation, who 10 minutes ago was fixated on killing you that sure as the sun rises he’s going to die if he doesn’t tell you what you want to know and he tells you to eat shit, guess which category he belongs in? Some of these clowns were declaring their allegiance to Hitler right to the gallows.

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