My thoughts on: Inglorious Basterds (2009)

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This may shock some of you but before I sat down and watched Inglorious Basterds, I don’t think I’d seen a single Quentin Tarantino film (not all the way through at any rate, since I have seen snippets from Kill Bill). Since I’m looking to expand my cinematic knowledge, I decided Inglorious Basterds was a good place to start. And as it turns out…I liked this film a lot more than I thought I would.

If you haven’t seen this movie, Inglorious Basterds is set in an alternate World War II where Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt with an accent that doesn’t fit him in the slightest) leads a special commando group (the titular ‘Basterds’) on an operation to assassinate Hitler shortly before D-Day in 1944. This group has struck fear into the German army not just because they rarely leave survivors, but also because they scalp their victims (Raine has demanded 100 scalps from every man in his group). The Basterds consist of:

  • Lt. Aldo “The Apache” Raine
  • Sgt. Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz
  • Hugo Stiglitz
  • Wilhelm Wicki
  • Private “The Little Man” Utivich
  • Private Andy Kagan
  • Private Michael Zimmerman
  • Private Simon Sakowitz

Except for Raine and Stiglitz (a former German soldier locked up for brutally murdering a lot of German officers), the entire group consists of Jewish-American soldiers who are out to wreak havoc on any Nazis they can get their hands on.

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Concurrently, the story follows the story of Emmanuelle Mimieux (real name Shosanna Dreyfus) (Melanie Laurent), a (secretly) Jewish woman who barely survived being murdered by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) when the man hiding her and her family gave away their hiding place to Landa to save his own family. Emmanuelle now runs a cinema in Paris with her lover Marcel (Jacky Ido) and comes to the attention of a German soldier named Fredrick Zoller, who is immediately smitten with her. It turns out that Zoller is the star in the latest Nazi propaganda film Nation’s Pride which tells the (heavily exaggerated) story of how Zoller killed 250 soldiers in a single battle.

Zoller, wanting to impress Emmanuelle (and not taking the hint that she is not interested in him) convinces Goebbels to move the premiere of the film to Emmanuelle’s smaller cinema and Hitler himself will be in attendance along with most of the high command. This gives Emmanuelle the idea to kill the Nazi leadership by locking the cinema doors and setting on fire a large collection of nitrate films (nitrate being extremely flammable). Her plans are unwittingly on a collision course with the Basterds plans, who also wish to take out Hitler at the movie premiere.

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I found myself deeply engrossed in this story once it got going. Waltz’s performance as the sadistic Colonel Landa was simply mesmerizing. He carries himself as the perfect gentleman (even when hunting the Dreyfus family at the start of the film) but a twisted element is always present. One of my favorite scenes is when Landa unwittingly meets Emmanuelle at a cafe (not realizing that it’s the same girl he tried to murder three years previously). Emmanuelle clearly remembers who he is and the tension is palpable until the oblivious colonel leaves and the traumatized woman lets out a sob as her repressed emotions spill out.

 

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Another perfect moment came at the climax of the film when Marcel set the nitrate film on fire. Before this, Emmanuelle had recorded some footage and spliced it into a reel of the new movie. In it, she revealed her true name, that she was a Jew and everyone in the theater was about to die at her hands. The rest of the footage is of her laughing as the flames roar into the theater. It’s terrifying (because of the theater going up in flames) and satisfying (because the Nazis are getting what’s coming to them) all at the same time. There’s a fantastic shot of Emmanuelle’s laughing face visible against the smoke in the theater long after the screen has burned away.

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I’d been told going in that Tarantino films were known for their bloody moments and this film certainly had those (though not as many as I’d feared). The worst moment for me came at the end when two of the surviving Basterds are pumping bullet after bullet into the mangled bodies of Hitler and Goebbels; the corpses were so riddled with holes that I could barely look at them, but that part only lasted for a moment.

In conclusion, I did enjoy Inglorious Basterds. It’s a fascinating look at a World War II that never was. If you’ve seen the film, what did you think about it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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4 thoughts on “My thoughts on: Inglorious Basterds (2009)

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