By JP Chapman | August 25, 2009
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer(s): Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, B.J. Novak, Mike Myers, Samuel L. Jackson (narration)
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard all about Inglourious Basterds, its insane opening breakfast table conversation, the performance of Christoph Waltz as an intimidating S.S. “Jew-Hunter” and Brad Pitt’s scarred and accented badass persona. For any that haven’t (and if you haven’t-where have you been?!?!) Inglourious follows a group of Jewish-American soldiers that are formed to humiliate, torture, and kill as many Nazis as humanly possible. Their goal is to have word of their existence and horrible exploits spread through the ranks of the Third Reich to the extent that the entire party shakes at their mention.
Led by Brad Pitt’s Tennesse- born “Aldo the Apache”, the group is also comprised of “the Bear Jew”, played by Eli Roth (a homicidal soldier known for clubbing in Nazi skulls with his baseball bat), Hugo Stiglitz (a psychopathic German rejected from their ranks due to murdering his superiors) and Ryan from The Office (known for partying and corporate embezzlement). While these characters–along with a few others–make up “The Basterds”, their story is actually not the central focus of this film. Rather, if there is a main character that unifies Tarantino’s typically (and intentionally) fragmented subplots, it is found in the aforementioned “Jew-Hunter”, Hans Landa, as played expertly by Christoph Waltz. Inglorious opens with a scene that everyone is already talking about. A stereotypically dialogue heavy scene for Tarantino, in which Landa tensely confronts a French dairy farmer about a family of French Jews he may or may not be hiding. Suffice to say, things do not end well, but there is one escapee—Shosanna, as played by Melanie Laurent.
The story weaves in and out of subplots, but eventually ends up in Paris-where Shosanna is now running a cinema frequented by the Nazi soldiers that are in occupation. Operating under an assumed identity, she catches the eye of a young German war hero who persuades the German Reichminister of propaganda to move his newest film’s premiere (telling the story of the young German’s exploits) to Shosanna’s theatre in an attempt to garner her affections. Shosanna hatches a plot to burn the theatre to the ground while full of trapped Germans; while unbeknownst to her, the Basterds and the British are simultaneously collaborating on an undercover mission to blow up the theatre and Nazi brass in attendance at the premiere. Complications arise as it is revealed that not only will Landa be providing security for the event, but that Hitler himself may be in attendance.
Inglourious Basterds is everything we’ve come to want/expect a Tarantino movie to be since Reservoir Dogs set the gold standard. An awesome plot. Stunning performances. A kitsch soundtrack. Awesomely tense dialogue throughout. Where it differs from other Tarantino films, is that this is one of the first films Quentin has produced that felt like it didn’t have to use all the Tarantino tricks of the trade to stand out. Not to say that the quick cuts, soundtrack, violence, and jokes don’t all make this that much more of a fun movie; but the big difference here is that this film stands on its own from a plot standpoint. Coupled with Tarantino’s usual stylistic liberties, we get an outstanding entry in his film canon, and what may even be his best film yet.
There is a focused energy in the direction for Inglourious Basterds that was present in previous films, but that has been refined/honed to an awesome point in this one. All of this is driven home by excellent performances by the various cast members. Brad Pitt is hilarious—stealing every scene he is a part of. And Christoph Waltz….he 100% deserves the Best Actor award he won at this year’s Cannes festival. I can’t wait for him to get more stateside roles/recognition. The one disappointment in acting came via Eli Roth, who I felt was just a little too over the top. It was all in good fun, but he can’t pull off the joking/over the top/still serious attitude like the other actors present. That same criticism kind of ties in to what may be one of the only shortcomings of this film as well—Tarantino’s tendency to throw up a font or retro sound clip seemingly for the hell of it. While fun and cool, this felt slightly like an insecurity more than anything else in this film.
These criticisms are small in comparison to the overall impact of this film. I walked away from Inglourious Basterds completely satisfied, and with a sensation that I don’t often get from movies—that I would be willing to pay to see it again right away.