After having turned his very specific vision of the world onto seemingly everything from exploitation horror to kung fu to the heist movie, Quentin Tarantino returns this month with his very first foray into the war genre with the gloriously anarchic Inglourious Basterds. Right from the very first line of the script “Once Upon A Time…in Nazi-Occupied France” you know this isn’t your average WW2 film. Basterds has as much in common with the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone as it does with Kelly’s Heroes or The Dirty Dozenl This is about as far from the traditional war film as you can get, but a brief assessment of the plot (a small group of Jewish soldiers, “The Basterds”, led by Brad Pitt playing a half-redneck, half-Indian Apache who has ordered his men to collect 100 Nazi scalps each) indicates just how extraordinary this film really is.
The most refreshing aspects of Inglourious Basterds are, paradoxically, those that its detractors will point out to be its worse. Even though this is Tarantinos first period film, his characters still occupy the same pop-culture obsessed universe as they always did, and so instead of discussing Big Kahuna burgers and TV pilots, here it is the joys of decent Strudel and the merits of Max Linder versus Charlie Chaplin as the film joyfully leaps between its three languages. Not only has he retained his wonderfully innate ear for dialogue, his eye for spotting talent is still second to none. Pitt has verve and energy he has lacked since playing Tyler Durden in Fight Club, the stunningly beautiful French actress Melanie Laurent is a revelation as escaped Jew Shosanna Dreyfuss, and after wowing audiences as Bobby Sands in Hunger Michael Fassbender is superb as British Lieutenant Archie Hicox. Amidst such a wonderful cast someone is bound to steal the show, and that honour goes to Austrian actor Christopher Waltz playing SS Colonel Hans Landa, a role that won him the Best Actor award at the Cannes film festival. Landa, who has been giving the menacing moniker “The Jew Hunter” (which in a film filled with nicknames comes second only to “The Bear Jew”, the handle German soldiers give Donny Donowitz’s baseball swinging Basterd) is charming, romantic yet utterly ruthless in achieving his aims.
Inglourious Basterds is a big, big movie, and once again Tarantino adopts a novelistic approach to story structure (The film is in five distinct chapters). The final two will generate the most controversy for their depiction of certain Nazi characters, particularly the hysterically camp Hitler and the vulgar Goebbels. Some will dismiss Basterds as offensive and ill-conceived for toying with history as it does, and while it remains true that we should never forget the awfulness of the Third Reich, (particularly now with the far right making headway throughout Europe), it is impossible to deny there is a certain thrill to be had from mocking some of the most horrific villains in history and of being a fellow conspirator in a plot against the Nazi top brass. Controversy aside, this is an unapologetic and thoroughly entertaining film, and we should be grateful just to be along for the ride.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Christopher Waltz, Eli Roth, Mike Myers, Michael Fassbender
Runtime: 152 minutes