Inglourious Basterds (2009): United States – Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, some of it rather graphic, swearing (like usual for Tarantino), and a slight bit of sex
I should probably begin by explaining a little about my (one-sided) relationship with Quentin Tarantino. I have always loved Pulp Fiction. Jackie Brown and Reservoir Dogs I enjoyed but haven’t seen for a while. I also had fun with From Dusk Till Dawn. Then came Kill Bill Vol. 1. I loved it at the time, but as Vol. 2 came and went I wasn’t as excited. In the meantime I had discovered the rich plethora of films he had ripped off to make them. I knew Pulp Fiction wasn’t original, but rather an original mash-up of snippets of movie-dom. But it was fun. In the years after Kill Bill he seemed (from my unknowledgeable perspective) to spend most of his time directing TV episodes and attaching his name to a bunch of movies from China and Japan. Then came the Death Proof part of Grindhouse, which is hardly worth mentioning when watched right after Planet Terror.
Then, when Inglourious Basterds was rumored a few years back, I watched the Italian film of the similar name. It was enjoyable as an Italian war movie, but didn’t have much going for it. I was, however, disappointed to see he was remaking another old film; not even just ripping off a variety of films, but remaking one.
Well, I am delighted to report that I was wrong. It is not an adaptation of the Italian film, nor a remake; it is merely a movie with a similar name and some vaguely similar story ideas. And it is pure Tarantino through and through, which is a joy to behold once again. He is quite possibly America’s youngest and brightest auteur, and it is great to see him back in the saddle where he belongs, writing and directing his own material in his own way.
If you’ve seen any of the trailers you know the plot. I shall only briefly revisit it here. Lt. Raine (Brad Pitt, as a hillbilly) has been given a special mission during World War II. He is to take a group of renegade Jewish soldiers into occupied France and terrify the Nazi’s. This means scalping, murdering, brutalizing, and obliterating as many Nazi’s as possible, or die trying.
This storyline alone would have been plenty to fill a regular length movie. But there are several other plotlines, that, while not as labyrinthine as Pulp Fiction, are all enjoyable and expertly pad the film out to two and a half hours. There’s a young Jewish girl, Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), who escapes the Nazi’s and runs a movie theater in Paris. There’s the young German soldier who falls for her. There’s Goebbels, going crazy with his propaganda films, there’s Hitler yelling in an extreme caricature, there’s a gorgeous German starlet (Diane Kruger) who gets involved with the Basterds, and there’s a crafty S.S. officer who may be up to more than it seems.
The entire film is done with Tarantino’s signature bravado. The directing is crisp and sharp, and very stylish. He borrows from the masters (Hitchock, primarily) in scenes where the tension is drawn out so long it practically jumps off the screen. The writing, while not quite like his best work, still crackles and pops. Pitt’s performance in particular highlights some of the brightest spots. The S.S. officer, Col. Landa (superbly played by Christoph Waltz), also gets some of the best dialogue.
Then there’s the violence. At times it is about as balls-to-the-wall (quite literally, at one point) as you will find anywhere. It’s over-the-top and usually enjoyable. Some of it is pretty bloody, so be warned. But this isn’t your average exploitation flick. What makes the film seem like Tarantino has matured is how restrained it is at times. A large part of the plot involves the movie theater, so he works in innumerable nods to the films of the 1930’s and 1940’s. However, instead of ripping those films off and indulging himself, Tarantino makes it all an integral part of the plot. If you know about the films, you will enjoy the references. If you don’t, you will enjoy the film. It’s as simple as that.
Well, it appears I’ve gone on quite a while about the film. I had a whole lot of fun watching it, even though it’s rather long. It contains quite a bit of content you won’t find anywhere else, and for that reason I’m glad Tarantino was able to make it, and I’m glad it has been well-received both critically and commercially. Mostly, I’m very excited to see that Tarantino has once again taken the reins and made a movie all his own. This time around he seems a bit more mature, giving us an enjoyable and superbly made film while restraining some of his indulgent cineaste urges.