A roaring rampage of revenge? Gratuitous violence? Inappropriate humour? Lingering shots of women’s feet? Finally, Quentin Tarantino’s ten-years-in-the-making 'masterpiece', Inglourious Basterds, has been released for his salivating fans’ approval, and for the rest of us unappreciative mugs, too.
He can still make you laugh even whilst in the midst of smashing a soldier’s skull with a baseball bat. You have to wonder what that says about you as an audience.
The year is 1944 and in a Nazi-occupied France, Lt Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt) and his band of Jewish-American soldiers, the Inglourious Basterds, are romping around the countryside joyously scalping Nazis. It’s a World War II epic but no one’s told the Basterds that. They’re starring in their own version of a spaghetti-western and having far too much fun to bother with trivialities such as genre and historical fact.
Inglourious Basterds follows two interlinking plots to assassinate enough key Nazi leaders to end the war in the Allies’ favour at the premiere of Goebbels’s latest propaganda film, Nation’s Pride. Plot number one is hatched by Shosanna, the Jewish owner of the cinema who wants fiery retribution for the brutal murder of her family at the hands of Colonel Landa, the ‘Jew Hunter’. Plot number two, Operation Kino, is a bundling attempt by Raines and the Basterds to blow up the cinema with everyone in it. With Colonel Landa and history against them, will the Basterds succeed? More to the point, can Tarantino’s ego really be that big?
Even the uninitiated amongst us has to admit that Tarantino knows how to set up a scene. His dialogue is layered with subtext so heavy that each word is like an anvil being dropped into the conversation. Hidden intentions are tenderly revealed to be monstrous. Tensions are dispelled by instants of humour so unexpected that they distract you long enough for the ultimate impact of the scene to bash your brains in from behind. The opening alone rivals the Sicilian scene in the Tarantino-penned True Romance and that’s only Chapter One.
Brad Pitt plays Lt Aldo Raines like he’s the love child of Popeye and Colonel Sanders. With his squinty, weathered eyes and drawling accent, he oozes enough boyish charm that he can quite literally get away with murder and still be classed as a lovable rogue. He’s the archetypal Tarantino character: comical, morally ambiguous and smug.
Pitt isn’t the star of the piece, though. That would be Austrian Christoph Waltz as Colonel Landa. Tarantino isn’t afraid of relying on subtitles and uses them to full effect with this character. Waltz is staggeringly good as the multi-lingual Landa. He manages to perfectly pull off being utterly composed, completely unpredictable and always just a nuance away from total mental meltdown.
After working on the unfairly criticized Death Proof with schlock horror writer/director Eli Roth (Hostel parts 1, 2 and, inexplicably, 3) Tarantino’s love affair with the cow-eyed one seems far from over. Yet Roth pulls through in his role as Donny ‘The Bear Jew’ Donowitz. Much like fellow Basterd Hugo Stiglitz, his character is baffling funny. He can still make you laugh even whilst in the midst of smashing a soldier’s skull with a baseball bat. You have to wonder what that says about you as an audience.
Using actors with the same nationality as their characters and utilizing their various languages, Tarantino lends his outlandish alternative history an authentic edge. Something that the deadly serious Valkyrie, a film about an actual plot against Hitler, was sorely missing. Still, he also features a camp Hitler and portrays Goebbels as a power-mad luvvy; to Tarantino history is very much open to interpretation.
Ever fond of his revenge plots and strong female characters, Tarantino sticks to his own formula. Diane Kruger plays the German mole, actress Bridget von Hammersmark, a ruthless yet vulnerable femme fatale. While Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna is a broken but terrifyingly strong woman. No matter what sex or nationality his characters are though, they’re all murderous. Even in a film about Nazis, Tarantino likes to make it hard to pick sides.
Perhaps too daft to be the epic Tarantino may have envisioned, this film is no less entertaining. On the first viewing, it’s chock full of scenes with unpredictable outcomes and characters you can’t second guess. You could essentially break Inglourious Basterds down into several short films, the outcome of each one inevitably being bloodshed. Once you know this, however, a second viewing might reveal the film to be lots of talking occasionally interspersed with bouts of gratuitous violence. Still, that’s Tarantino for you.