Posted: 08/24/2009


Inglourious Basterds

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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Inglourious Basterds lives up to its name, because it certainly filled with bastards. Brad Pitt headlines an awesome cast in Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering, which doesn’t disappoint. Tarantino’s signature is all over this film, with blood and gore, as well as outrageous characters, comedic dialogue and weird story lines.

The movie takes place in 1941 with the Nazi occupation in France, and Hitler’s henchmen are looking to exterminate any Jews found remaining in France. Pitt and his crew of former Jewish soldiers take up post in France as the Inglourious Basterds, and Pitt whose name is Lt. Aldo Raines, makes no mistake about their mission: “We are in the Nazi killing business,” Raines proudly proclaims in a thick redneck accent. And “business is a-booming!”

Once they come upon a troop of Nazis, they scalp their prey, as Pitt has ordered his men that they each owe him 100 scalps. The movie opens with the “Jew Hunter,” played by Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, pretending to strike a deal with a French farmer, whom he believes is hiding a family of French Jews who once lived in the area. As he sits with the farmer, he politely and shrewdly finally lets on that he knows the family is hiding in this man’s home. It turns out the family is, in fact, hiding under the floorboards directly under the table. Once this is confirmed, the Jews Hunter’s SS officers come and not to be concerned with even confirming their suspicions, they just start shooting up the floors. However, one family member, Shoshana, escapes the slaughter.

Eli Roth plays the “Bear Jew,” and his specialty is bashing in captured Jew’s heads with a baseball bat. Another signature, gut wrenching move that the Basterds make after capturing a Jew—that’s if they decide to release him—is to then carve a swastika in the forehead so the Nazi could never disguise they fact that they worked for the SS, which was Hitler’s personal security service detail.

Another central character in the movie is Shoshana, who had escaped execution and was now running a movie house. She conjured up a plan to get back at the Jew Hunter and his men after her theater was selected by the Nazis to be the place for the premiere of a movie. She had another plan, as she figured she had been made out by the Jew Hunter.
And the Basterds had their own plan that ran simultaneously to Shoshana’s.
So while she planned to switch the movie close to the end during the premiere—in which all of Hitler’s top brass and German socialites were inside the theater—with a taping of her own that declared death to Hitler, she also planned to burn the theater down. The Basterds were planning to bomb the place with dynamite that had been secured to a couple of their renegade troop’s legs. Well, needless to say, both plans are carried out and bring with it indescribable death and carnage. Tarantino takes a lot of poetic license with history, as in the movie he ends World War II differently than it actually ended.

Inglourious Basterds, if you can stomach it, will have you on the edge of your seat with the tense drama, manipulative scenes, head scalping and swastika carvings. But, if you just remember going in that it’s Tarantino, then you expect to be highly entertained. However, the occupation of the Nazis in France, Hitler’s tyranny and the execution of innocent people might be too much for some.

Inglourious Basterds was the top moneymaker during its first weekend in the Chicago area. It’s a great film even though, as history reminds us, some of the dialogue around what were called Negroes at the time is negative. But, those negative sentiments toward Blacks, as well as the entire Hitler era, are part of an unretractable history. And if any Black actor is going to get work in such a film, it would be Samuel Jackson. Jackson joins Tarantino again (after having done Pulp Fiction 15 years ago; a film which won Jackson international acclaim) and serves as narrator in certain scenes in Inglourious Basterds. Other cast members include Mike Myers and Diane Kruger. However, Pitt, Roth and Waltz are standouts.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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