Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France . . .
Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Notable Cast: Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, B.J Novak, Mike Myers, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson (Voice only)
Inglourious Basterds has been kicking around in Quentin Tarantino’s mind, and as a script, for as long as Tarantino has been a film-maker it seems. And the names that have been kicked around as his main cast, Hollywood titans and headliners such as Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, have given the film a significant profile over the years. The war film that many have been expecting out of him may not reach the artificially inflated expectations it has been given over the years, but it’s a terrific film in its own right.
The film is a combination of a spaghetti western and a war film, seen through the eyes of Tarantino. Set in World War II, the film is set on the eve of the Normandy invasion in Nazi-occupied France. The film focuses on two main storylines that converge into a blood-soaked finale, featuring several overlapping characters to boot, in a film that has had much love and effort put into it.
Transported behind enemy lines, a small group of eight enlisted Jewish soldiers led by Ozark-tongued officer Aldo “the Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt) have one mission: inspire fear into the heart of the German. They will show no mercy and give no quarter to the Nazis. They are nicknamed “the bastards” by the Germans, with tales of fear spreading like wildfire behind enemy lines. His crew enjoys the viciousness they lay on the Germans with a certain zealousness that is almost inspiring. Staff Sergeant Donowitz (Eli Roth), the Boston born Jew, has a particular viciousness with a baseball bat that inspires the nickname “the Bear Jew” amongst the German regulars. Tales are told of him as a mythical Golem come to life to wage war on the German for their butchery. When an opportunity arises to take down the top officers of the German Reich, the men have a moment to end the war sooner then later.
Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) is a French Jewish girl who runs a small cinema. Having witnessed the execution of her family by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), and barely escaping his team herself, she dreams of the day when she can have her revenge on the Nazis. When a German war hero (Daniel Bruhl) wanders into her cinema, and is seemingly infatuated with her, she finds an opportunity to strike back.
Meshed together, with narration from Samuel L. Jackson and a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo from comedian Michael Myers as a British Army officer, Tarantino combines elements from several genres with his signature dialogue into an absolute gem of a film. The key begins with the casting of what effectively are its two leads: Waltz and Pitt.
Pitt, usually known for more glamorous roles, is seemingly at home as the leader of Tarantino’s “men on a mission.” Bringing in an Ozark twang and a gruff appearance, Raine is an Army officer in the vein that only Tarantino could envision. Aping Lee Marvin’s iconic Dirty Dozen performance in terms of style and intensity, Pitt is recognizable under the adult film star moustache and yet manages to take away from his movie star persona quickly enough. This isn’t Brad Pitt playing Brad Pitt; it’s interesting to see him play a character that doesn’t have the sort of glam one usually associates with Pitt’s roles. As the leader of this group, he understands and relishes the role of being the Boogeyman to the German Army. If war heroes of old were clean, virtuous gentlemen then he’s a war hero for a new era. This one isn’t afraid to get a little dirt on his hands, not to mention blood.
And for every good hero deserves a good foil and Waltz is the film’s surprise. Landa is a genuinely evil man who kills indiscriminately without the slightest hint of pity or remorse. He is dashing, almost romantic in a way, but he never fools you. This is a bad man and Waltz understands that. Everything he does is calculated to maximize dislike and he relishes the role. The film’s opening, with him in the dairy farms of France looking for a family in hiding, is carried by sheer force of will from Waltz. What is an ordinary conversation that turns deadly would normally be boring but Waltz manages to keep it interesting by sheer force of will. When the film ends, his fate is one in which the audience can almost feel happy about.
There are some indulgences in the script, a Tarantino staple, but Tarantino the director manages to rein in Tarantino the writer for the most part and keeps the unnecessary to the minimum. At over 150 minutes the film is a bit epic but it never feels that way; Tarantino manages to keep a brisk pace and pepper up slowing moments with some visceral action sequences. Tarantino isn’t known as being a master of action sequences and for his first time in a war setting he manages to compartmentalize it into manageable moments. A shootout in a bar happens quickly, but Tarantino uses some slow-motion shots midway through to keep it from going by too fast. It’s not in the action where he does well; he sets everything up so well that when the action happens it is unexpected as opposed to perfunctory. The dialogue itself is the usual sort of Tarantino indulgences but rolls off the tongue delightfully; there are several moments that are inspired comedic genius in what is otherwise a terse drama.
Tarantino may have waited his whole career to put Inglourious Basterds on the silver screen and it is worth it. This is one of the best films of the year and a return to inspired greatness for its director.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: brad pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Inglourious Basterds, Mike Myers, Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson