Inglourious Basterds – A Review

Inglourious Basterds hinges on ‘good and evil’, and blithely depicts evil actions as good. Oh, btw, I may ruin this movie for you. Sorry. ;)


One moment has stuck with me:

The climatic, slow-motion scene shows Jewish soldiers firing from a balcony into a crowd of unarmed people (Nazis and their associates) who are trying to flee. It reminded me of scenes from Schindler’s List. The people below seethe like rats as they are slaughtered from above.

I get the impression Tarantino intends this scene to be cathartic. But it doesn’t balance against the Nazi brutality that it follows, it just mirrors it. And, unlike the Nazi violence, there is no consequence. I am not necessarily offended by the depiction of the violence, so much as the insinuation that it is right and need not, in this movie, be matched by any sort of consequence.

So, the movie is morally bankrupt and should disgust the right-minded. …

It is, however, shitloads of fun and, arguably, cinematically perfect.

The film’s heroes are the Inglorious Basterds. Led by Brad Pitt, they are a motley crew hunting Nazis behind enemy lines. As you would expect, the brutal treatment they mete out is depicted in loving detail.

The cinematic aspects of it are brilliant. The story is really exciting. The acting is sensational. The casting is sublime. It must be in line for Oscars for cinematography. The scenes are fraught with cinematic tension. The good actors make you love them and the Nazis make you hate them. The pacing of the story is perfect to build tension and release it. If you take it on Tarantino’s terms, it’s a perfect film.

I enjoyed myself and I wish I could keep my stupid moral judgments out of it. I would rather look back on Inglourious Basterds fondly.

So why am I being such a pain in the arse about it? It’s only a movie! Don’t I know how to have fun?

Here’s why:

Instead of creating an artificial war, Tarantino creates an alternative history. Using a partly real backdrop buys credibility. It buys emotional and dramatic gravitas. But the credibility is not free. The movie must pay – by dealing with the reality of that scenario.

Germans are not like aliens, zombies, characters in Kill Bill, or comic-book henchmen, where I cheer for every one that dies. And the movie recognises this. There are elements of moral balance. But, once the movie strays from schlock action and into a world of right and wrong, it can’t do a half-job.

US Armed Forces have been engaging in torture and extrajudicial killing in the Middle East. I don’t like it. Right-thinking people believe it is wrong. So when Brad Pitt smilingly says “we’re not in the business of taking prisoners”, you cringe and wait for the come-uppance. And you wait and wait.

If you’ve made it to here in this review, you’re probably inclined to engage with these issues, and there’s a fair chance you’ll also be a bit disturbed by the movie. But hey, I still recommend it. Not every movie can deliver such complex righteous indignation. 5/5 moral qualms.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

9 thoughts on “Inglourious Basterds – A Review”

  1. I am on a permanent Tarantino boycott after the ‘Hostel’ series of films. Sick, twisted, immoral shit that feeds sick, twisted and immoral minds. Where does this blood-lust come from?


    1. Dave, very needed comment among all this shameless adoration or a shy rationalizing of what people feel is wrong but ‘then it’s art, so I don’t want feel like an idiot’ and so on…
      I’ve just watched the movie and it was OK, it even had a few really insightful moments of the real evil and terror of the times – the first scene and then the meeting of Shoshanna with Landau in Paris.
      But what I found disturbing is that Eli Roth plays one of the avenging Jews. The guy of torture porn fame.
      Even if one could consider the movie as just overdue ‘one for the Jews’, I’m not sure how Jews who remember the times would feel about torture porn and Eli Roth as one of theirs and their avenger. Because Eli had to be in the movie – he wanted symbolically at least avenge his people and it was supposed to give the movie even more meaning…..
      I’m not Jewish but I find this selfindulgence rather offensive.


  2. *****SPOILER WARNING*****

    I’m not entirely sure I agree with the idea that Tarantino was going for a Allies good- Germans evil kinda thing. In the cinema scene you mentioned, the similar emotions shown on the faces of Hitler and the other German high command as they were watching the film-in-film depiction of the sniper shooting 300-odd allied soldiers and the two Jewish American Bersterds as they shot Nazis from the balcony were striking. I think Tarantino was trying to portray the barbarisim of bloodlust on both sides, regardless of “right”.

    Then there’s the scene in which the captured German officer politely refuses to trade his life for information that will lead to the death of his fellow soliders, and is brutally beaten to death by the Allies for his trouble. This also seems to show the “good” guys in a pretty morally repugnant light. And then there’s the Allied double agent actress convincing the German soldier (who has just become a father) to put down his gun because he “must think of his newly born child” and then shooting him in cold blood as soon as he does. Nice.

    So I think the Allies are shown to be just as barstardly as the Germans, but as you say, the point really is why the Germans get their come-uppance whereas the Allies generally do not. (The exception being the actress, but she was German anyway.)

    I guess the point lies in why Tarantino departed from the traditional “Allies as perfect moral angels” theme to run with a more realistic depiction of the Allies actions. Does he really think the Allies assumed “rightness” means their evil actions need not have consequences? Or is he using the similarities between the German and Allied actions to highlight the disparities in their “just rewards”? Could he have meant the total moral bankruptcy of almost every character in the film to form a backdrop upon which our own moral judgments are thrown up for analysis?

    I dunno. I’m probably giving him too much credit. I liked the film though.


  3. yes rob, you are giving him too much credit. I saw it with a bunch of mates. We gave it 2/5. For all the quaint references to great films of the past, the film just didn’t appeal. It was laid on just too thick. the best part was Brad Pitt’s italian accent. I reckon Tarantino’s formula is to look at every scene and work out how to take it over the top. Then go round and duchess all the film reviewers (why did margaret and david give it such a good review? because he gave them an interview) and agree with the reviewers that there is some deep meaning to his surrealist interpretation.


  4. I think everyone has got it wrong – it’s not a war movie, it’s a spaghetti western!

    There are outlaws (basterds), dubious sheriff (Landau), implacable revenge of the wronged innocent (Shosanna), etc. The underlying truth of the spaghetti western is that life is not fair. Innocents are senselessly slaughtered (think of the opening of ‘Once upon a time in the West’). Bandits are opportunistic and without honour but at lease they’re amusing (think of the Ugly in ‘The Good, the bad and the Ugly’). Loose women are punished (eg. ‘Django’) and the authorities are either simple minded or corrupt (eg. ‘A fistful of dollars’).

    Spaghetti Westerns can’t resonate with an audience that expect onscreen stories to demonstrate the ultimate triumph of good governance, meritocracy and rule of law. Tarantino is utilising the well worn iconography of WW2 to bring these Spaghetti Western values into sharp relief for audiences that find such evil unfathomable and such unfairness unbelievable.

    So try seeing this film as a way to try on another pair of shoes, shoes belonging to a Russian or a Somalian or a North Korean or anyone who lives in oppression and doesn’t expect any better. Because life is unfair, innocents are slaughtered, violence does go unpunished and criminals are amusing in their own horrific way. This is the truth that Tarantino brings to the screen in his colorful, witty, tragic and memorable film.


  5. I agree, great flick. One of the best of 09. I was freaking laughing my ass off the entire time! Plus, there was some serious intense scenes: i.e. opening and the tavern basement. Seeing Hitler’s face get chewed up by a Tommy gun was pretty sick too. Good review, check out mine when you can!


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