Film: Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Mélanie Laurent

Quentin Tarantino is many things to many people. Some see a meticulous auteur who inscribes his encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema history into every reel of his complex films; particularly his love for westerns. Some will recognise him as a 90’s cultural icon that made it big by offering a profoundly original style and has maintained his status by poaching the good works of classic American and international cinema for reinvention. What is remarkable about him is the fact that most people will recognise his signature style of filmmaking, even across the many genres and sub-genres that he decides to aim his cameras. His latest film Inglourious Basterds is no different, a ruthless and violent stab at the revered war movie genre.

Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) is a fierce Jewish girl who has fled to France after her family is massacred by the charismatic and devilishly articulate German officer Col. Hans Landa, played outstandingly by Christoph Waltz. She has inherited a cinema from relatives and when a young, famous Nazi war hero starts wooing her, she sees her chance for vengeance. Meanwhile Brad Pit stars as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, who leads a group of Jewish-American soldiers across Nazi-occupied France to kill and torture as many Nazis as they can. A mission is formed to destroy Shosanna Dreyfus’s cinema while the Nazi war hero’s propaganda film is being screened for notable members of the Reich. The narrative then teases by unfolding both plans without letting on which will ultimately succeed.

Like most of Tarantino’s films however, the story is largely irrelevant as he is mainly interested in lingering on moments of dialogue. Always the master of having his characters engaged in mundane and seemingly irrelevant conversations, Inglourious can boast some of the best moments of tension and menace of any of his previous chatty works. Austrian-born Christoph Waltz’s performance is by far the best example of this, portraying perhaps the most complex Nazi character in the history of film. A trend developed in post-war hollywood war flicks to dehumanise the Nazi’s to the point of being no more than distant silhouettes for target practice or stereotypical, unfeeling Arian clones when shown up close. This has largely continued with a few exceptions but here Tarantino has shaped a gifted actor into a Nazi officer who is both poetically captivating and terrifyingly wicked. You simply can’t take your eyes off him. As well as this, his opposite is shown in the form of Brad Pitt’s character Lt. Raine, who represents the epitome of the zealous leaders of early WW2 films (Dirty Dozen, Guns of Navarone). A simplistic and unflinching hick, he is in every way the opposite of Col. Landa, and the viewer is left waiting for the inevitable moment that the two personalities clash.

The one aspect of Inglourious Basterds that stands apart from Tarantino’s previous works is that has a message. While usually the cinematic referencing is employed in his films to give a desired stylistic flavour, here he uses his war film to comment on the war genre and the people who consume it. As the Nazis are watching their propaganda film filled with dying American soldiers highlighting a brash, nationalistic sentiment by the Nazis, the film sits the audience right there when they are punished in an accordingly violent manner. Usually such subtle reflexivity is reserved for horror films, but Tarantino creeps in some ultra-violence for the final scene where he doesn’t let his audience assume that they have not been permanently branded for watching his propaganda film. Damn he’s good.

You will love this if: You appreciate the finer cinematic art of seeing a Nazi being beaten with a baseball bat by a Jewish soldier named ‘Sgt. Donny Donowitz’.

You will hate this if: You only plan to see it for the name ‘Brad Pitt’.

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