A film geek’s revisionist history of the Third Reich’s death knell as portrayed by the Quentin Tarantino players.
Soon after the United States enters World War II, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is charged with leading a squad of Jewish-Americans behind enemy lines in occupied France to brutalize any Nazi they come across. Plans and ambitions align when a spy, German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), learns the biggest brass in the Third Reich will be attending a propaganda film in Paris, giving “the basterds” an unprecedented opportunity. The venue for the showing, however, belongs to Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a young woman with her own score to settle. And not far behind them all is Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), nicknamed “the Jew Hunter” by his enemies for being awfully good at his job…
As writer/director Quentin Tarantino unveils each of his five chapters, many things become apparent regarding his maturation as a filmmaker. First, while his characters are given to gleeful enjoyment in their assigned tasks (axis or allied), each feels very human and very real in spite of the inhuman things they do. Second, the violence, while certainly over the top, ends just as quickly but still serves as its own statement about the conviction of the characters committing such acts. Finally, and this may be a first for Mr. Tarantino, even the most throwaway dialogue turns out to be perfectly relevant, even when it seems self-serving at first glance (read: he uses some of his oldest tricks against the viewer to do something even cooler than merely entertain us).
The only moment where one might be tempted to look away from the screen to sneak a look at their watch might be during the overlong bar scene. This isn’t to say it isn’t relevant; in fact, it is a complex chess game of dialogue and circumstance played out to its very end. A simple flash or two of another person listening in (all without revealing who that person might be) could have turn the scene up a notch to get over that hump, perfecting a near-perfect execution of film-making. As it is, there’s little else that could be added or removed that might have told the story better.
While Brad Pitt reveled in Aldo’s thick accent and Eli Roth’s Sgt. Donny “the Bear Jew” Donowitz got in a little swinging practice, the show is mostly stolen by the least likely individuals. Mélanie Laurent’s portrayal of Shosanna as a haunted yet vengeful character resonates beyond her moments on screen, but it is Christoph Waltz’s Landa that steals the show as the most interesting and engaging person you’d never want to meet. Inglourious Basterds accomplishes everything it sets out to do and is a welcome addition to the works of Quentin Tarantino, but for those who’ll say that the ending was ridiculously and needlessly violent, I challenge you to show me where it was any more unnecessary or gratuitous than the end of its possible inspiration, Raiders of the Lost Ark (yes, I just compared Tarantino to Steven Spielberg in the Nazi-killing business… you’re welcome).
(a four skull recommendation out of four)