Two things I feel I should tell you at the outset: 1. I've never met a Quentin Tarantino film I haven't liked (yes, I even champion Death Proof like I'm working for Cahiers du Cinema). 2. I, sir, am ridiculously hard to please when it comes to Hollywood war epics. Apart from a few special cases (Apocalypse Now, for example), it takes a lot for me to have any desire to want to watch your standard battle drama. While most are perfectly acceptable pieces of film making, I find them frequently tedious and without anything new to present outside of the realm of improved effects. World War II, for me, is one of the worst offenders. 95% of the time, films dealing with WWII & the Holocaust are obvious Oscar bait, the same old story dressed up and starring a naked Kate Winslet with a German accent. With that out of the way, I can tell you that Inglourious Basterds is, hands down, the most satisfying non-musical Nazi movie that I have ever seen.
The reason? Revisionist history, of course. In Basterds, Tarantino doesn't bother with incidents as they occurred, but instead presents them the way they should have occurred. The result is a surprisingly emotional saga that manages to say as much about the tyrannical injustices brought about by the Nazi party as Spielberg ever has on the matter, while at the same time creating an experience that delivers what the truth never can: pure, unadulterated vengeance. If all you've ever really wanted from a war film was to see the Third Reich bludgeoned to a pulp and gleefully dismembered...your wish has been granted. And then some. Fuck your facts, figures, names and dates, I'll take Tarantino's military strategy, thank you very much.
While I have no doubt that in the days to come I will meet a fair share of those with split views on the eye for an eye brutality of the story, for cinephiles, this is a rare and irresistible film that effectively blends Tarantino's genre-hodgepodge with a thrilling bloodlusting frenzy and the inspired thematic use of cinema as backbone. While Brad Pitt is the stand-out celebrity presence in the film, his character: Lt. Aldo Raine, the hillbilly Clark Gable-esque leader of a team of Nazi-destroying covert G.I.'s, is hardly the story's protagonist. traditional Tarantino style, the story contains multiple chapters and jumps between stories involving the Basterds, the Germans, and a Parisian theater owner named Shosanna. While Raine and his Basterds act as a power generator for the subtitled slow burn of the other plots, their actions are perhaps obstructed from hero status by moral complications. The hero here is actually Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish woman whose family was killed mercilessly by "The Jew Hunter" Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) when she was just a teenager.
Waltz makes for a formidable villain with an unsettling charisma. He's vile and smarmy, prone to maniacal outbursts while smirking like a James Bond megalomaniac. You can't help but eagerly await the moment he encounters the American troops and hope that Eli Roth's baseball bat wielding "Bear Jew" comes loping along to detach his smug skull from his spinal column. Clear off. With the unmistakably heavy sound of blunt force connecting with flesh running simultaneously with cracking bone. But, ahem, enough about that. Back to the subject at hand.
Inglourious Basterds is a complicated film plagued by small issues even as it seeks to correct others. It's at times jumpy and encroached upon by outside elements of a mysterious source. Certain characters are poorly developed while others are presented to us in excess. We don't get enough of the titular band of brothers, though their efforts are the driving force of the action. It's an exploitation style film that shoots for cheap thrills even as it delivers haunting, beautifully effective images. Yet, unlike other war actioners (last year's absurd Valkyrie, anyone?), Tarantino is a mature enough filmmaker to know how to mask tiny issues with cues taken from earlier works of successful cinema. The film may be loosely influenced by an Italian B-movie from 1978, but as far as i can tell, it owes very little to it apart from the title. Sergio Leone certainly has a presence here, but the French and German scenes (notably delivered in French and German, for once) speak to an obvious understanding of the canon from Jean Renoir to Leni Riefenstahl to Fassbinder effectively assimilated and incorporated into something consumable and accessible.
There's something remarkably beautiful about Inglourious Basterds that exists between the instances of rampant sadism and the postmodern non-diegetic elements that seek to perpetually remind the viewer this is a work of, well, pulp fiction. The film triggers a primal catharsis in its audience, at least it did in me, an immediate empathy with its vigilantes and a frenzied desire for swift retribution. It's wholly engrossing and impressive in its scope and relentless bravura, retaining the smart meandering dialogue of Tarantino co-mingled with with a foreign blend of Wagnerian epic poetry. A delight speckled in brain matter and with real blood coursing through its veins. Trust me, i'll be seeing this again. Several times.
5 out of 5.
See all of Wilde.Dash's reviews at Love & Squalor.