Posted on Starpulse.
There are a few things you need to know before going to Inglorious Basterds (rated R, now in theaters). First, it is an alternate history of the ending of Nazi Germany and World War II, so do not expect it to do anything that you’ve read about in the history books. Second, it is a Quentin Tarantino film down to every last second: dialogue heavy, tongue-in-cheek, full of black humor, viciously violent, and a stream of loving tributes to particular movies or cinema styles that Tarantino loves. Third, this is not really an action flick, despite what the trailers might tell you. There are action scenes in it, but this is really a thoughtful flick with a handful of larger-than-life characters and a central tragedy that we’re all still a part of. Even after sixty years, what the Nazi party did to the world is like a sore wound. So it’s hard not to get a tiny bit of satisfaction at seeing them get pulverized and torn apart by their victims.
The movie is set into five chapters and weaves several different stories together, although they all come together at the end in classic Tarantino style. We start out in 1940 and meet Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), probably one of the best villains written since Hannibal Lecter, and he’s the famous Jew Hunter. He tracks down hidden Jews in Nazi-occupied France, and he manages to hunt down a Jewish family in the beginning, which becomes important later on since the eldest daughter Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) manages to survive. Years later she owns a movie cinema and attracts the attention of a celebrity soldier, Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), who wants to show the propaganda film made about him at her theater. Shosanna plans to use the film premiere as her chance to take revenge against the high ranking Nazi’s who will attend, including Colonel Landa.
In another story, the title characters are introduced: the Inglorious Basterds, or really just the Basterds. They are a dangerous gang of Jewish American soldiers who go undercover in France and then pick off Nazi soldiers, allowing only one to live so they can tell stories about the Basterds horrifying exploits. They carve in the scalp of every survivor the swastika, so no one can ever forget what they did. Brad Pitt plays the leader of the Basterds, the southern drawling Aldo Raine. He is charismatic, direct, and bloodthirsty, as are every one of his special soldiers. They get involved with another story when the British hear about the premiere and decide to send their own agent in to cause havoc. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) pairs up with actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), but that goes tragically wrong and the Basterds have to find a way to destroy the premiere by their lonesome.
Nothing really turns out like you expect, and no one exactly ‘wins’ in this tale of blood, hatred, patriotism, and war. The characters are all very memorable, with Shosanna’s bitter vengeance mixing with the Basterd’s good ol’ boy charm, and then Landa’s brilliant, brittle friendliness. Christoph Waltz already won an award at Cannes for Best Actor because of his role as the predatory Landa, and people are buzzing he should get nominated for an Oscar. With a smile as bright as the sun and eyes as cold as ice, he is anything but boring. This is a highly stylized movie like all of Tarantino’s work is, with flashy songs and random comical moments that ease the tension and then throw you back into it head on. The dialogue is where this film shines, and even though more than half of it is in French or German, it is fast paced and still easy to follow.
There are no lazy moments in “Inglorious Basterds,” which might be a relief to people who feel that Tarantino can be plodding in his heavy dialogue and in-jokes. This is all a mad dash to the finish line, and even in scenes that hold nothing but quiet discussion, you feel the adrenaline just under the surface. It is tightly put together with excellent pacing and editing, so that even when it hits two hours and thirty minutes you kind of want more. “It’s over already? Aw.” The movie might not be a thoughtful introspective look at Nazi Germany, nor is it exactly a serious war film, but it’s not supposed to be.
Keep in mind that this movie is rated a strict R for violence and language, and if you’ve never really been a fan of Tarantino’s eccentric genius, it might not work for you. However, it could very well be the best film in Tarantino’s already extensive list of hits, and that’s saying a great deal. It is entertaining and eye catching, although it lacks a certain quirky low-budget cult-classic edge that is typical of its director. This is a blockbuster through and through, but one with wit and heart. It never lets your attention go, even for an instant, so “Inglorious Basterds” turns out to be quite the success.