Cannes 2009 Review: Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds
by Alex Billington
May 20, 2009
What were you expecting? Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited WWII extravaganza Inglourious Basterds premiered today in Cannes amidst a considerable amount of buzz. I'll admit that it was the one Cannes film I was looking forward to seeing the most. But is it a masterpiece? Not exactly. Tarantino doesn't reach those heights this time, though he does kick things up a notch in a way that even I wasn't expecting. Basterds is a bit light on the action, heavy on the talking, and full of great performances. It's as awesome as Tarantino's first two films and as entertaining as his most recent few. It's the WWII movie we've been waiting to see.
Primarily set around a movie theater in Paris, Inglourious Basterds is yet another Tarantino love-letter to cinema, disguised in an epic and thoroughly engaging WWII story. In a lengthy, but altogether brilliant opening scene, we are introduced to the two main characters: Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a Jew hiding out in France, and Nazi Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), known as the "Jew Hunter", who is out to rid the entire country of every last Jewish person. When Shosanna is discovered, she flees to Paris to work at a cinema, but we'll get back to her story later, because we're then introduced to "the Basterds," the nine-man Nazi-scalping Jewish-American squad that the film is named after and they do kick ass.
Interestingly, there's not a lot of time spent exploring their side of the story. We know who they are, we know what they do, and Tarantino at least gives us a few unforgettable scenes showing just how brutally badass they are, but not too much more. Instead, our focus is on Shosanna, who soon learns that Nazi war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) wants to have the world premiere of his propaganda film Nation's Pride at her theater. Since every last Nazi leader will be there, including Hitler, the Basterds set a course for Paris as well, putting the two on a collision course, as Shosanna wants to exact her revenge on Hans Landa at the very same time. Everything starts lead up to that final moment of "will they pull it off?"
Fellow critic Gregg Kilday was dead on in saying that Basterds is, "the grindhouse version of Valkyrie." I was already going to make that comparison (even if it's a bit unsettling to some) and I agree with Kilday's assessment. Once the story really got going, my heart started beating faster and I started to sweat in wondering if they were both going to be successful or not. Tarantino has indeed written a great story, though it's full of scene after scene of extensive dialogue and minimal amounts of action. But that's to be expected from Tarantino. It's also expected that this dialogue be some of the best written, and definitely is.
As good as the story was, the acting was the highlight of Basterds. Tarantino has rounded up a hell of an ensemble cast, including specifically Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent, who were certainly the best of the bunch. Waltz plays Hans Landa, already a new Tarantino classic, like a German Merovingian (think Matrix), with a light touch of comedy that hides an immense amount of power - the kind of character you can't wait to see again when he's not on screen. Eli Roth also hits his role out of the park (pun intended) as the "Bear Jew," a soldier who wields a baseball bat that he puts into use killin' Nazi's a few times.
So why isn't this a masterpiece if its got top-notch performances and a great story? Maybe it's that I wanted more action, or to spend more time with the Basterds, or get a more detailed look at the whole story, that prevented this from reaching those heights. Even though it ran 148 minutes, it still felt like Tarantino had edited it down heavily and cut out plenty of scenes. I never read the script, so I can't make that comparison, but I will say my expectations were definitely not in line with what Tarantino delivered in the end. That's not bad, but I just had to rearrange my expectations part way through. And while I don't think this gem is polished to perfection, it is definitely a new Tarantino favorite that I can't wait to watch again.
I'm not going to rank Inglourious Basterds up against all of Tarantino's other films yet, as I need to see it again and mull over it a bit more before I make that judgment. But this is my initial reaction and it's as positive as it can be. Tarantino has done a terrific job with Basterds and delivered a WWII movie that I'm certain we've never seen before. Don't expect to see Tarantino's version of Saving Private Ryan, as it's not about the action, but about the story, the characters, and the ever-so-important dialogue. Don't worry, there are a few unforgettable scenes that will makes Tarantino fans very happy. Tarantino has done it again!
Cannes Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Reader Feedback - 65 Comments
Well were we REALLY expecting all action? If you look back, all his films (bar death Proof) are full of talk. Great talk, mind you. It would have been wrong to think that this would be different. Im so glad that its getting positive reviews. Ive been waiting for this film for years and now have to do the final slog through to August.
Marcus on May 20, 2009
How about the music?
Delvis on May 20, 2009
"all his films (bar death Proof) are full of talk." Hmm, well Death Proof was *all* talk, save about three scenes, but I agree with the rest of your post. Glad to hear positive feedback on this one 😀
Digital Metaphor on May 20, 2009
"But is it a masterpiece? Not exactly. - It's as awesome as Tarantino's first two films and as entertaining as his most recent few. - I'm not going to rank Inglourious Basterds up against all of Tarantino's other films yet" Dude, I'm confused... Tarantino's first 2 films (Reservoir Dogs & Pulp Fiction) are masterpieces, so which is it?
bart on May 20, 2009
Delvis is on to something Alex. How about the music? We need to consider this as one of the major ingredients for a good authentic Tarantino experience, right? Tarantino has always been very picky and anal about the score of his movies. So can we expect a lot of "period music" from the 1940s (Piaf, Armstrong, Sinatra) or did he mix musical eras like in his Kill Bill movies? + I'm SO wanting to see this!!! OMG! You're one lucky movie geek!! ^_^
Huck on May 20, 2009
I'm glad u gave it a positive review. I'm really looking forward to this!
Patrick on May 20, 2009
Action is overrated. Plus you've got Transformers, Terminator, and god knows what else dropping within a month of each other so I'm sure you can get your action fill. I've only read the script, but the action comes out of story and feels organic. Nothing is forced. I'm glad it's not about the action, as we've already seen that literally hundreds of times. Tarantino opts for something far more interesting here, because while the Basterds are the marquee they're by no means the main characters. I'd even go so far as to say there is no main character -- you're watching two stories hellbent on a dead-on collision. It's one of the best scripts he's ever written and at this point, I have no doubts the man has delivered. Can't wait to finally see it.
Fuelbot on May 20, 2009
#4 "Dude, I'm confused… which is it?" Who knows. Welcome to Alex Billington's writing style 😉
Digital Metaphor on May 20, 2009
thanks Alex Billington i was waiting for your review i except this movie to be good not great but still this review is satisfying for the movie fan"s
joe on May 20, 2009
3 hour epic tale?
cat on May 20, 2009
@ bart You are exactly right, man. Also... "I'm not going to rank Inglourious Basterds up against all of Tarantino's other films yet, as I need to see it again and mull over it a bit before I make that judgement." - Alex Billington Which really means ""I need to wait and see what respectable people, like Roger Ebert, say, so I seem like I know what I'm doing". Yet another reason why Alex should learn another trade (or better yet, learn the one he's currently doing).
Matt S on May 20, 2009
Welll, what about Brad Pitt, nothing on him??
opala on May 20, 2009
@ Alex. I can definitely understand "needing to see it again"... the first time I saw Kill Bill, I really didn't care much for it, but upon subsequent viewings, grew to like it more and more - kinda like I just didn't "get it" the first time I saw it. I think that Tarantino's style creates expectations that carry over from film to film, but in my opinion, you have to adjust them every time. While many of his movies have similar elements, the best way to approach them is individually and in the context of what they are trying to be.
Aaron on May 20, 2009
Very understandable Alex. The most pathetic thing I've seen today is RT not putting up all the positive reviews, just so they could run a story about the mixed reaction. I've searched around and the positive reviews far outweigh any negative reaction, which is always standard for a Tarantino movie. I'm very excited about the movie, particularly Michael Fassbender. Also, I'm pretty confident 20 mins will be sliced if theres that much buzz about it running over unnecessarily, I'm sure the Weinstein's don't want another Grindhouse!!
Kenco on May 20, 2009
yes alex, the people who want lots of action from a Tarantino film might find it disappointing. The people who are excited to see Tarantino's "WWII Film, Sergio Leone style" will probably find it the masterpiece that it sounds like it is, and sounds like it should be regarded as.
Al on May 20, 2009
That review honestly didn't make much sense to me. Felt like you were caught up in excitment of seeing it, and wanted to be the first person with a review up.
Bryan Baca on May 20, 2009
I can't wait to see it. That's all.
mnk on May 20, 2009
No worries, Alex I'm just being a brat. Glad you defended yourself though.
Matt S on May 20, 2009
Hey Alex, could you tell us how violent the movie us, compared to other Tarantino flicks? NC-17 level of gore? Less? MORE?
DinoChow on May 20, 2009
I LOVE every single Tarantino film. I don't see I couldn't like this. http://filmexplosion.blogspot.com/
Dylan on May 20, 2009
Alex, personally, I don't think you need to defend yourself. Your reviews are almost always spot on.
????? on May 20, 2009
Why do you have to see a movie twice in order to give your honest review?
dee on May 20, 2009
What do you mean you don't need other reviews? You obviously read Gregg Kilday's before you published yours. This was less of a review and more of a last minute high-school film analysis.
Tyler on May 21, 2009
On the whole, not well received at Cannes. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/video/2009/may/20/cannes-film-festival-tarantino-inglourious-basterds
Kal on May 21, 2009
yeah dude..i usually dig your reviews, but this made no sense what so ever to me.
mike j chevalier on May 21, 2009
25, you are so stupid. On the whole it was generally mixed, but the positive reviews outweigh the bad. 411, BBC, Empire and USA Today praised the film. Guardian, the review you cited, is the most negative, and whit noise.
Al on May 21, 2009
@27, you call me stupid (BTW, I was basing it off of the opinions from the video blog as well as both guardian critics at Cannes; one of which totally slated it) but go on to firstly say it had mixed reviews (which is more accurate) then say the majority reviews from Cannes were positive (even though the applause at best was generous!) and 4 positive (btw, how positive? ) examples is NOT the majority.
Kal on May 21, 2009
28, yes it was mixed, but i've seen more positive than negative. And The Guardian has always had a past of Tarantino hating, one of the only negative reviews of Pulp Fiction comes from there. And how positive? Mostly positive, a lot have common concerns(as any film has) yet those critics are gleaming with excitement and truly loved the film. See for your self Kal http://www.obsessedwithfilm.com/movie-news/once-upon-a-time-in-cannes-simon-saw-inglourious-basterds-and-loved-it.php http://www.totalfilm.com/news/cannes-2009-inglourious-basterds-first-reaction http://www.aintitcool.com/node/41138 http://www.showbiz411.com/?p=313 http://www.empireonline.com/news/story.asp?NID=24863 Many more but I'm not gonna waste my time post links. Of course, as you said, having examples does not make it the majority, but you'd be surprised how most of the civilized world uses them as a matter of persuasion, backing up the truth if you will.
Al on May 21, 2009
Alex - Bravo for writing such an insightful interview that USA today quoted you often: http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2009-05-20-cannes-tarantino_N.htm
MgbPeregrine on May 21, 2009
@29 P.Bradshaw (the main critic of the Guardian) has over the years been very positive of Tarantino's works (no need to provide links seeing as this is pretty much common knowledge) so there goes your argument of the Guardian's Tarantino bashing! Again, how do you explain the just "generous" applause the film received?
Kal on May 21, 2009
Well I didn't read all the comments, but I think I need to leave my comment here, because I'm one of the lucky basterds who have seen this bad ass movie in Cannes!!! I was there just as a tarantino and ww2 movie lover when i got those wanted tickets. Here is my opinion about the movie. I was slightly disappointed afterwards but i think it's due the fact that it's supposed to be tarantino's biggest movie he made and all the attention in cannes went to that movie. but i must agree with alex : there was too much talking, and i had seen deathproof the evening before again, so it's not in a way like deathproof, i think the problem was the language switching and the subtitles were forgotten on one point (and english isn't my main language so the dialects were hard to hear). and of course the lack of action was an issue cause the movie is like 60% about the bastards and the rest is about the other story which is in the movie (i wont spoil it for anybody). But it's still a great movie which have a great laugh, drama, and some bloody action in it like we love to see from tarantino! So see it as a tarantino movie and not as a ww2 movie and you will absolutely love it!
Steve on May 22, 2009
Kal, their have been conflicting reports about the applause. The first showing apparently had very slim, the 12 pm saw rapturous applause, and there was apparently a fairly long standing ovation. So.....I guess the film sucked.....right?
Al on May 22, 2009
@33 Al: got any links to these reports? (that was a joke). And remember one doesn't answer a question with a question. Oh and never said the film "sucks" just reporting the news at the screening.
Kal on May 23, 2009
ah alex you and your final paragraph cop-outs
twispious on May 23, 2009
I want to see this.
juegos on Jul 2, 2009
I have seen it and trust me, you have to see it more than once. It isnt pulp fiction or dogs but i would def call it number 3. The reason pitt probably didnt make the review is because he wasn't the point, he was good but his character fell into the background a little bit...Its a very good movie and the final 2 scenes will satisfy every Tarantino fan. ps. Gore is relatively low for Tarantino in my opinion
tendo on Jul 20, 2009
Ugh. Even after reading a recitation of the plot, I have no idea what this movie is about via this review. It's littered with superficiality, inane personal meditations and UGH, comparisons to other films. You keep repeating the dialogue was good...well what was good about it? There wasnt a lot of action? Think about why? They didnt spend a lot of time with the Basterd's despite them occupying the title of the film. Lets think about why, not just react. And most importantly, WHAT WAS THE FILMMAKER TRYING TO SAY!!!??? Always think about that. I mean you talked about Tarantino having a lot of dialogue in his movies, chances are, with all that dialogue he probably is trying to say something. And always have It is written like an elementary school newspaper. Seriously, what was the point of the article? I had no idea what you were trying to say about the movie other than to justify the ranking you put at the bottom. How did this guy get into Cannes?
Mr. on Jul 29, 2009
This movie is AMAZING its definately one of the best movie that ive seen this year. Tarentino out did himsel. The acting was great and after you see this youll be begging your parents to take yu through it again...YOUR PARENTS WILL PROLLY ASK YOU IF YOU WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN...!!!
J-SMALZ on Aug 15, 2009
I want to see this.
la on Aug 18, 2009
This was one of the most fantastic movie experiences for me, 'that's a bingo' in every way
Esther on Aug 22, 2009
Simply Amazing, Quentin comes through once again. I own all of his movies and this definitely will be on the top of my list once it comes out on DVD. I may actually go see it again 🙂
Janene Dalton on Aug 26, 2009
Was underwhelmed by Basterds. Not long ago I decided never to trust movie critics again, no matter if they were named Ebert or were like "us" geeks writing for first showing and /film. But then I saw District 9 and almost every critic was showering the indie flick with praise. I saw D9 and was blown away, like never before. I was expecting great things from Basterds, but was not expecting to be bored. But that´s exactly what happened to me. The grande finale was very cool, and I wasn´t expecting certain things to happen to certain german persons. I thought they would make it out. I wasn´t expecting an alternative, almost comic bookish kind of history of ww2 and that was a pleasant surprise indeed. But the rest, until Tarantino came to that ending took forever. The dialouge was sharp as always, but went on for too long.
Martin on Sep 7, 2009
I thought it was pretty good too especially with the realness and gore of a Tarantino film.
Hsa on Sep 14, 2009
I watched the movie and I loved it. I don't care what people and critics are saying but this movie definitely fed my little perverted and fragile mind. I am not going to sit here and over analyse the politics of the movie. I had fun watching it- this is where it begins and ends
internet marketing Melbourne on Oct 4, 2009
@43 You've obviously never watched a Tarantino movie if you were bored by this dialogue. This movie came out 2 mayb 3 weeks late in JA but it was so amazing I DID SEE IT TWICE!!! Especially in the opening scene, you could just feel the tension growing before the end of that scene. I don't c y u have to hate on the movie like that cuz Tarantino is known for his dialogue so i repeat "YOU'VE OBVIOUSLY NEVER SEEN A TARANTINO MOVIE!"
Nick on Oct 23, 2009
I watched several Tarantino's movie. This last one not yet, but according to these article, definatly I should. I never trust to official critics.
Sutomore on Oct 28, 2009
Dear Sutomore, in last few years I don't have too much free time, and I am watching only movies with negative official critics. Yes, this movie was one of them too 🙂 Have fun.
Herceg Novi on Nov 6, 2009
I like better movies which story is in present or future. I read a lot of critics about this movie, and that's the only reason I watched it, and it was really great! My recommendation too.
Balaton on Nov 20, 2009
Well I didn't read all the comments, but I think I need to leave my comment here, because I'm one of the lucky basterds who have seen this bad ass movie in Cannes!!! I was there just as a tarantino and ww2 movie lover when i got those wanted tickets. Here is my opinion about the movie. I was slightly disappointed afterwards but i think it's due the fact that it's supposed to be tarantino's biggest movie he made and all the attention in cannes went to that movie. but i must agree with alex : there was too much talking, and i had seen deathproof the evening before again, so it's not in a way like deathproof, i think the problem was the language switching and the subtitles were forgotten on one point (and english isn't my main language so the dialects were hard to hear). and of course the lack of action was an issue cause the movie is like 60% about the bastards and the rest is about the other story which is in the movie (i wont spoil it for anybody). But it's still a great movie which have a great laugh, drama, and some bloody action thanks in it like we love to see from tarantino! So see it as a tarantino movie and not as a ww2 movie and you will absolutely love it!
SSteve on Nov 20, 2009
Great movie where you can meet all parts you need for good drama. But maybe it has too much blood in some scenes, but probably that's selling the movie nowadays.
Graphic design Melbourne on Nov 26, 2009
Brilliant, funny and entertaining. Great acting by Waltz! One of Tarantino's best films.
Eliza on Dec 11, 2009
Great review Alex and cannot wait to see this movie as I am a huge fan of Tarantino. I remember going to a friend’s birthday party a few years ago and he had an excellent movie compilation of all the best scenes and music from his movies running on a big screen in the main room. Struck up a conversation with someone as you do about which was the best and simply could not decide between Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and still can’t to this day. I think the point about dialogue is a good one, Reservoir Dogs was a great example of this and the diner scene is one of the greatest ever as are the conversations between Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. I am also excited to see the performance of Brad Pitt as I think he is great actor if the role is right for him. Anyone have any info on the music? These are also very important in previous Tarantino films.
Charlie on Dec 13, 2009
this is good one Tarantion's movie, can't wait to see the prequel
wowhlg on Jan 11, 2010
Quentin Tarantino, you've made a good film, I'm so glad if the story is true......hahahaha...
Robert on Jan 15, 2010
Tarantino Movies are always great!!! Thank you for the good review!!
celebrity on Jan 16, 2010
Pretty interesting movie. I thought it was well acted honestly.
Multivariate Testing on Jan 20, 2010
I thought it was surprisingly well acted despite all the blood and gore.
HSA on Jan 20, 2010
yuh, the first tarantino I don't like. The story is in my point of view by far to simple.
pizzas on Mar 28, 2010
Brilliant, funny and entertaining. Great acting by Waltz! One of Tarantino's best films. Fantastic, funny, entertaining, comedic movie! I loved the overall acting of Waltz, I was very satisfied! Thanks for the review!
Pepper Spray on Apr 15, 2010
it was my favorite... Brad Pitt made a great representation
Signs Austin on Jun 26, 2010
I am happy to find it. T hanks
Morning Wishes on Jun 27, 2010
one of the greatest movie of the year. Bradd Pitt always does a great job overall. I have never seen a movie that he was in, that was bad.
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astronomy on Jan 1, 2011
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