Before I get into a proper review, I should qualify my remarks by saying that I’ve been a huge Quentin Tarantino fan for years. I’ve seen each of his previous films, and thoroughly enjoyed nearly all of them. The only one I would say I don’t outright love is Jackie Brown, which I just watched again recently. I still think it’s a fine film, but the dialogue doesn’t feel quite as strong to me.
All this to say that Inglourious Basterds was easily my most anticipated film of the summer.
My initial reaction after seeing the movie was that it didn’t quite live up to my expectations/hopes. But as I thought about it more and more, I wasn’t sure that anything could have. I held off with writing this review just to give the film time to sink in. I read other reviews, swung by IMDb to get a feel for the general consensus, and played the film’s soundtrack nonstop. In the end I found myself thinking about the movie so much that I actually went back and saw it again in theatres. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure this is a first for me.
Alright, so to come to the point, I liked this movie. A lot. It’s not my favourite QT movie, but it’s certainly a worthy addition to his great resumé. From the fantastic performances and dialogue, to the beautiful cinematography and engaging soundtrack, it’s a great ride.
The film delivered a number of surprises, perhaps the biggest being how there’s relatively little action. When a movie’s trailer features an over-the-top Brad Pitt announcing to his eight-man squad The Basterds that “Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps! And I want my scalps!” it tends to colour you expectations of what you’re about to see. Anyone going in looking for an exploitation gore-fest will be very, very disappointed.
The most common complaint levelled against Basterds is that the dialogue scenes drag. In his review for the LA Times, critic Kenneth Turan noted that, “clocking in at 2 hours and 32 minutes, [Inglourious Basterds] is unforgivably leisurely, almost glacial.” I couldn’t disagree more with this. Tarantino has a skill for dialogue that, to my ears, puts him at the top of the class with guys like David Mamet. I could listen to the characters these two have created talk until the cows come home. For me, each time one of these dialogue scenes came to an end, it was almost a downer.
The acting in Inglourious Basterds is just about uniformly excellent. It’s an odd mixture, because some characters feel like cartoons, while others seem like real people. On the cartoon side, you have Eli Roth, Mike Myers, and Brad Pitt hamming it up bigtime. Of the three, the only one who I felt distracted by was Roth. And he hardly has any lines so it didn’t really matter. Some people didn’t like Mike Myers but I thought he was fine. And again, he’s only in one scene, so he didn’t really take me out of the film. For his part, Brad Pitt does a great job. It’s a ridiculous caricature of a character, and he carries it off well.
The majority of the rest of the cast is solid. It’s an international group, with Frenchwoman Melanie Laurent and German Dianne Kruger being two of the standouts. German Michael Fassbender really confuses things, playing an Englishman disguised as a German.
Finally, there’s the best performance of the film, delivered by Christoph Waltz. He plays SS Colonel Hans Landa, AKA“The Jew Hunter”. Waltz quite simply steals every scene he appears in. He plays Landa as a brilliant, determined man who seems to be capable of anything. He can go from deadly serious to giddy with amusement to unhinged with rage and back again and it never feels forced. It’s the best acting I’ve seen in a while.
Tarantino fans will notice a number of references to his other films. Feet, as always, remain a source of constant fascination for Quentin. There’s a Mexican standoff like in Reservoir Dogs. There’s a familiar voice from Pulp Fiction narrating, and another on the other end of radio. Julie Dreyfus plays a translator like in Kill Bill. And so on.
Finally, a few words about the soundtrack. There are 27 tracks in all. Only 14 of them made it onto the actual soundtrack release, and I encourage you to seek out the rest (which I’ve listed below) because I think every song in the film is great. It’s a mix of lots of Ennio Morricone, Charles Bernstein and Jacques Loussier, with Elmer Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin and Riz Ortolani thrown in, topped by a David Bowie tune and some German and French music. I’m not sure how you beat that. The track that plays over the end credits, Morricone’s Rabbia E Tarantella, is my favourite in recent history.
All I can say is that if you like Tarantino, you owe it to yourself to watch Inglourious Basterds.
Full track listing for Inglourious Basterds in film order:
1. The Green Leaves Of Summer by Nick Perito
2. The Verdict by Ennio Morricone
3. L’incontro Con La Figlia by Ennio Morricone
4. White Lightning by Charles Bernstein
5. Il Mercenario (Ripresa) by Ennio Morricone
6. Slaughter by Billy Preston
7. Algiers, November 1954 by Ennio Morricone
8. The Surrender (La Resa) by Ennio Morricone
9. One Silver Dollar (Un Dollaro Bucato) by The Film Studio Orchestra
10. Hound Chase by Charles Bernstein
11. The Saloon by Riz Ortolani
12. Bath Attack by Charles Bernstein
13. Claire’s First Appearance by Jacques Loussier
14. The Fight by Jacques Loussier
15. Davon Geht Die Welt Nicht Unter by Zarah Leander
16. The Man With The Big Sombrero by Samantha Shelton & Michael Andrew
17. Ich Wollt Ich Waer Ein Huhn by Lilian Harvey & Willy Fritsch
18. Main Theme From Dark Of The Sun by Jacques Loussier
19. Cat People (Putting Out Fire) by David Bowie
20. Mystic And Severe by Ennio Morricone
21. The Devil’s Rumble by Davie Allan & The Arrows
22. What’d I Say by Rare Earth
23. Zulus by Elmer Bernstein
24. Tiger Tank by Lalo Schifrin
25. Un Amico by Ennio Morricone
26. Eastern Condors by Sherman Chow Gam-Cheung
27. Rabbia E Tarantella by Ennio Morricone