Writer/director Quentin Tarantino is back in glorious form with his World War II epic, Inglourious Basterds. At times the film is deadly serious and violent while at others it is tongue in cheek and playful. At all times Basterds is engrossing and entertaining and is a fitting entry in the Tarantino genre. Yes, that’s right genre. No matter what his films are about, whether they are a homage to pulp novels or a revenge fantasy starring a female samurai, Tarantino’s films are uniquely Tarantino, laced with brilliant dialogue, awesome camera angles, title cards and plenty of comedic violence.
Basterds follows a cavalcade of characters that all meet up and cross paths in a movie theatre in France during the explosive third act of the film. In Chapter 1 we are introduced to Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), otherwise known as the Jew Hunter. He is in France seeking out Jewish folk who have managed to slip out of the grasp of the Nazis. Landa is a well mannered, overly polite killer who has a knack for ferreting out his prey and may be one of the most deliciously evil screen villains of all time. In Chapter 2 we meet Lieutenant Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt), leader of an elite group of Jewish-American soldiers known as the Basterds.
Their mission is to go to Nazi occupied France and spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and killing Nazi after Nazi. Their plan goes exceedingly well and the Basterds begin to become the stuff of legend. Soon after we are introduced to Shosanna Dreyfus, a Jewish exile whose family was murdered by Landa and who is now living in France under an assumed identity. She owns a theatre that the Nazis want to use to premier the latest propaganda film from Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), one of the higher ups in the Nazi party.
Dreyfus plans to use this opportunity to avenge her family and strike a serious blow to the villainous Nazis. Also looking to use the theater to destroy the Nazis is German movie star, Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), who has been secretly working with the U.S. government. She is teamed up with the Bastards to strike a blow against the Nazis that will effectively end the war. Of course, things don’t go as planned and it all leads to a thoroughly satisfying, exciting and unpredictable conclusion.
In Basterds, as with all of Tarantino’s movies, it’s not so much the story that is compelling, but the way he allows it to unfold. His films are never linear, instead relying on flashbacks to tell the story and keep the audience guessing. He is the master of hide and seek. Tarantino also has a flair for introducing his characters in an exciting manner, employing great use of dialogue. The introduction of Raines is one of the best scenes in the film and will go on to become a classic. As is the case with all of his films, Tarantino brings his distinctive visual flair to Basterds and proves once again that he is a masterful director who propels his cast to uniformly amazing performances.
Then again, with the amazing dialogue that he creates, any actor worth his salt would give a good performance. The usual obscure movie references and typical Tarantino flourishes are all here on display. My only real complaint is that some of the scenes stretch on a tad too long but at the same time the wisegolfers film never overstays its welcome. In fact it is the length of some of the scenes that build the tension to a boiling point that usually erupts into crazy violence. That’s the thing about Tarantino; you never know where his twisted imagination is going to take you and it is thrilling.
As stated earlier, the acting is top notch. Pitt gleefully rips into the role of Lt. Raines and is a joy to watch. My only wish is that he was given more screen time. It is evident in his performance that Pitt had the time of his life filming Basterds and I would love to see him collaborate with Tarantino again in the future. Christoph Waltz is brilliant as Col. Hans Landa, making him one of the best on screen villains ever. Whether he is speaking Italian, German or English, Waltz gives a diabolical performance that blends great charm with atrocious malevolence I sense that he will be rewarded for his performance during awards season.
If he isn’t given a best supporting actor nod from the Academy, that would be quite inglorious indeed. Melanie Laurent is evocative as Shosanna Dreyfuss, displaying great strength and steely determination as she plans her revenge on the Nazis. Diane Kruger also delivers a spellbinding performance as German movie star, Bridget Von Hammersmark. The rest of the cast gamely does their best but there are far too many of them to mention here.
To sum it up, Inglorious Bastards is not quite the masterpiece that Pulp Fiction is, but it comes damn close. Jam packed with crisp dialogue, impressive visual flair, fabulous performances and plenty of Tarantino’s trademark violence and wit; Bastards is quite the glorious achievement.