As a general rule, I dislike long movies. Not all of them, as the good ones make their lengthy runtime count and are actually worth spending over two hours watching. But the majority of these films that are over two hours long usually don’t need to be. There’s usually a lot of fluff and scenes that could and likely should have been removed. In many cases, these movies suffer from pacing problems. Inglourious Basterds needs (just about) every minute that we’re given.
I say “just about” because there are still some scenes that could have been shortened. Not flat-out removed, but the long, drawn-out dialogue sequences that Tarantino specializes in were sometimes, but rarely, too long. Shortening those scenes up just a touch would have meant there are absolutely no pacing problems with the film, and since it’s engaging from start to finish, it would just play out as an incredible film instead of just a very, very good one.
The main plot as far as I can see doesn’t involve the titular “Basterds”, who are a group of American soldiers stuck in Nazi-occupied France whose goal is, and I quote, “killin’ Nazis”. They’re led by Brad Pitt whose character is a comedian. He doesn’t take anything seriously, which is nice considering the majority of his scenes involve gunfights or the scalping, (removing the scalp), of Nazis. But like I said, the movie isn’t really about him or his group of soldiers.
Instead, the plot focuses on a young Jewish cinema owner named Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), who escaped from the Nazis years prior and is in hiding under the name Emmanuelle Mimieux. After a young German soldier (Daniel Brühl) becomes infatuated with her, she ends up hosting the premier of a film showing a three-day event where 300 allied troops were killed by one man. Attending this film are the leaders of the Nazi party. Shosanna, someone who had her family killed by the Nazis decides that this will be a good time for revenge, planning to burn down the cinema with the Nazis trapped inside.
Now, the Basterds end up planning something similar, except they plan to infiltrate the cinema and blow it up with sticks of dynamite. On their trail is a Nazi detective Hans (Christoph Waltz), who always seems to know what’s up. We witness this in the film’s marvelous opening scene where he discovers where some Jews are hiding. Oh, and every time Waltz is on the screen, you witness a wonderful performance that is half serious, half satirical, but wonderful all the same.
Unfortunately for the plot, it never seems like the American Basterds have much point to exist. Sure, they provide some of the film’s better scenes, and we’re rooting for them to succeed, but they seem more like a backup plan than anything else. Shosanna appears to have everything under control, and without them interfering, she’d have no problem burning a large portion of the Nazi Party to the ground. It’s refreshing though that they aren’t the ones to complicate her plan, because for a large part of the film, I was ready to believe that they would mess things up.
Actually, the twists that all occur at the end are the most surprising part about Inglourious Basterds. There are a lot of surprises at the end of the journey, some that I’ll admit I definitely didn’t see coming. The script is also really humorous, especially in scenes involving either Pitt’s or Waltz’s character. A word of warning though: A large potion of the film is not in English. Probably a good 80% of it is in either German or French, meaning you’ll be reading a lot of subtitles. For those who dislike this, you’ll want to stay clear of this film.
The majority of the film is dialogue oriented, but not with dialogue meant to advance the plot farther than required at that moment. Most of the time is spent with characters playing against one another, trying to make sure that the other doesn’t determine how many truths are being hidden from them. This gives almost every scene a great deal of tension which helps to keep things interesting. And when there is a short break in the drama created this way, we get a short but not unwelcome action scene just to remind us that yes, Quentin Tarantino can do still do those. They’re violent and gory but much shorter than some of Tarantino’s previous films. But we don’t need much of them with how well the rest of the film works out.
Inglourious Basterds ends up being a great film whose only problems come from slightly overlong dialogue scenes and the fact that the Basterds don’t really play a crucial role in the film. I can see why they’re included, but having them working towards accomplishing a similar task as someone who can easily pull it off seems like an odd decision. Regardless, the film is full of tension and excitement that keeps you on the edge of your seat — as long as you don’t mind reading a great deal of subtitles.