Review: A Trio of Women Vs. 'Inglourious Basterds'

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Inglourious Basterds

All three of us -- Debbie, Jenn and Jette -- saw Inglourious Basterds last weekend during Cinemapocalypse. We hope that the incident with the Nazi flags, and the presence of writer/director Quentin Tarantino and actor (normally filmmaker) Eli Roth, didn't bias us one way or another.

The Summary:

Inglourious Basterds is set in Europe during WWII, and is about the ways in which several characters survive (or not) while working to defeat Nazi Germany. The title characters, the "Basterds" (Brad Pitt, Roth et al) are a secret U.S. military group of Jewish soldiers all determined to strike fear into German soldiers by their acts of extreme violence. But that's not all. Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) is determined to have her revenge, particularly on a certain Colonel Landa (Christophe Waltz). And actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) has some very secret, very special information that raises the stakes significantly.

What did we think? Keep reading to find out which one of us compared the characters to Hollywood actors from the Thirties and Forties, who praised the strong female characters and who found it disconcerting but still worth seeing.

Let's start with Debbie this time:

Regardless of whether or not you are a fan of Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds is a compelling film well worth seeing. Tarantino's style of depicting a series of stories on the screen is even more convincing in this film than any other. It flows naturally as if reading a novel, and each individual story is intriguing but the intertwining of characters brings the film to an unexpected yet natural conclusion. The climactic scene (which I won't spoil) is reminiscent of Sergei Eisenstein's Odessa Step sequence, as it builds anticipation which releases as tragedy plays out.

Tarantino was dedicated to ensuring authenicity of characters by casting actors in roles of their natural origin, and this commitment hit the mark. Christophe Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa and Brad Pitt as Lieutenant Aldo Raine gave outstanding performances, but what really struck me was the strength and elegance of the female characters. Melanie Laurént and Diane Kruger are excellent in their roles. Despite the madness of the times, their characters were portrayed with fortitude and grace.

A few scenes are a bit disconcerting and even now are a bit hard for me to process personally, but all in all I would say that this film is definitely worth seeing in the theater. Just don't expect the typical "men on a mission" adventure seen in Kelly's Heroes or The Dirty Dozen.

 

Jette checks in:

Brad PittInglourious Basterds is as difficult to analyze as it is to spell. (My inner copy editor can't wait to be able to spell "bastards" correctly again.) On the surface, this is a movie about revenge and table-turning -- Jews during WWII who are the aggressors of violence rather than the victims. It's also very much in the style of other Tarantino films. Shosanna's desire for revenge and destruction echoes The Bride's in the Kill Bill movies -- Melanie Laurent even looks a bit like Uma Thurman. Characters talk about movies just as they seem to do in so many other Tarantino films, although this time German films are in the spotlight.

The conversations in this film don't seem as long and frustrating as they did for me in Death Proof, where I wanted the characters to hurry up and get on with it already. Here, the chitchat is always underscored by suspense. A long talky sequence in a basement bar is fraught with tension ... and ends explosively. One of my favorite scenes involved two characters conversing over strudel, but what's going on beneath the surface is so much more than that.

The plot is a little thin and you might think it predictable, although Tarantino takes it in an unexpected direction. The characters and their individual situations work better than the story as a whole. The most fascinating character may be Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz), the German "Jew Hunter" whose interrogation methods are as smooth as Adolph Menjou.

In fact, many of the characters have a Thirties or Forties air about them, as though they've stepped out of another movie. Take away the heavy Southern accent from Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and you might be reminded of Don Ameche -- I swear they stole his Thirties-era mustache -- or John Lund in A Foreign Affair. On the other hand, Diane Kruger has the sense not to try to channel Marlene Dietrich, which would have been overkill. I said Laurent resembles Uma Thurman, but she also looks a lot like Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas, especially in that red dress. Omar Doom pretending to be Italian at the end of the film is right out of a Thirties comedy. It's as though the breezy characters from earlier films secretly slipped into this movie to show off their dark sides.

And their dark sides are very intense. The violence surrounding these characters is nothing you'd seen in a Golden Age of Hollywood film: scalping, head-smashing, knife work and torture. I had to peek through my fingers a few times. Still, there's something very satisfying about this table-turning theme in film, and I got a kick out of the audacious ending. The movie almost doesn't hold together overall, but that didn't bother me. The other thing that surprisingly didn't bother me, in a summer of movies that all seemed too damn long, was the 2.5-hour running time. Especially since I saw this film as the first in an all-night movie marathon, I'm looking forward to a second viewing of Inglourious Basterds.

 

And finally, Jenn:

Diane KrugerInglourious Basterds is the Tarantino film most likely to convert non-fans.  The trailers don't do it justice; it's a smart, funny WWII fantasy that honors both noir films and the anti-hero films such as the one the title is ripped from. 

Tarantino typically respects the genres he works so much he won't stray beyond their rules, sometimes to the films detriment, but not in the case of Inglourious Basterds. He manages to simultaneously reclaim the noir and war-caper film devices as his own while honoring the genres, contemporizing them with his unique brand of extreme storytelling.

What the trailers don't show you are the strong and interesting female leads, Diane Kruger as an actress with questionable allegiances and Mélanie Laurent as a resistance fighter with a very personal reason to hate the Nazis.  Both actresses embrace their roles and hold their own with the men.  Not that the men are lacking; Tarantino went all out with the casting, from Brad Pitt who really does well as a character actor, to Daniel Brühl, who's boyish charm makes his Nazi character hard to dislike up until the end.  And Roth as "Bear Jew" Donowitz is gleefully homicidal.  None of them can hold a candle to Christoph Waltz, the "Jew Hunter."

The original cut took a beating at Cannes, but whatever changes Tarantino made worked, and worked well. There's an unforgettable death scene so climactic that despite the lack of a la petit mort, you'll crave a cigarette.   And I suspect there will be a strong resurgence in WWII genre film rentals.