In the midst of Quentin Tarantino’s hypnotically ferocious imagination, World War II features Brad Pitt scalping Nazi soldiers, an S.S. Jew hunter with all the juiciest lines, a film critic as a war hero, bombs and dismemberment by bat, and the Führer at the movies. Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino’s sixth feature) is a bold, audacious war film that will startle some, annoy few, and demonstrate once again that Tarantino is a director of cosmic delight. He provides a much needed alternative ending to this war and for once, the basterds get what’s coming to them.
In any respects, “Inglourious” looks and sounds like a typical Tarantino production with its encyclopedic movie references, showboating performances, and streams of self-conscious dialogue. From the title, to the Western sound of composer Ennio Morricone’s opening music, to the key location (a movie theater), the film embeds the director’s love of the movies. The rich deep color of the 35mm film provides such tactile pleasure and brings the story full circle. Tarantino divides the film into five chapters with three iconic characters drawn broadly and with love: the Hero, the Nazi, and the Girl.
The film begins in Nazi-occupied France, early in the war, when the cruel Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) arrived at an isolated farm where he believes the owner (Denis Menochet) is harboring Jews. He begins interrogating the dairy farmer and a game of cat and mouse begins, satanically orchestrated by Landa. Waltz is brilliant. His diabolical, dazzling performance blends charm and seduction with monstrous malice — and all in four languages. He is a vision of big-screen National Socialist villainy, from the smart cut of his coat to the soft gleam of his leather boots. Nicknamed the Jew Hunter, he has come looking for prey, a task which he is, as he explains in a long verbal monologue, quite suitable for.
Escaping the scene is The Girl — Shosanna (Melanie Laurent). She flees to Paris and begins running a cinema under a pseudonym. Next up is The Hero, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). Raine is the leader of the pack of Jewish avengers, the inglourious basterds of the misspelled title, who occupy a part of the sprawling narrative. Raine is played by Pitt as a broad caricature of a hard-talking Southern boy who wants each of his men to bring him 100 Nazi scalps, including the bat-wielding “Bear Jew” played by Hostel director Eli Roth. After sneaking into France dressed as civilians to take down Hitler and the Reich, the Basterds team up with British soldier Archie Hicox (the sensational Michael Fassbender), a film critic assigned by a British General (an unrecognizable Mike Myers). Adding more spice is German movie star Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), now a spy for the Allies.
Tarantino likes to take his sweet time when developing characters and story arches — he can be a master of the slow wind-up. Each chapter in this film is organized around specific bits of business and conversation that increasingly converge. The next part brings together Shosanna with her German suitor Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), a Nazi war hero and now film star. He persuades Joseph Goebbels to hold the premiere of his new war film, Nations Pride, in her theater. While Hammersmark and Hicox plot their own revenge at the premiere, which will boast a red carpet walked by the Gestapo elite and the man himself, Herr Hitler (Martin Wuttke), Shosanna has a plan of her own.
Did you know that nitrate film burns three times faster than paper? Well, thanks to Mr. Tarantino (along with a Samuel L Jackson voice over), you do now.
A Tarantino film breaks categorization. Inglourious Basterds is not a war film. Of course nothing in the film is possible, except that it’s incredible entertaining. He’s a master at bringing performances as far as they can go. Those in a rush will object to the time allotted to the tavern sequence . Bridget and Hicox try to fake out the Nazis in a verbal duel that escalates into a gory shootout, but Tarantino gives his heart fully to this and every scene in the film. Inglourious Basterds is about the power and appeal of cinema to do good, to shape history, to change things for the better as Tarantino sees fit. For anyone professing true movie love, there’s no resisting the brilliance of Inglourious Basterds.
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