When I first saw the curiously titled Inglourious Basterds, I remember quite distinctly seeing at the Pathé cinema in Scheveningen, The Netherlands. Two things struck me as I sat in the darkened theatre:
- I had not fully appreciated that this was going to be a Quentin Tarantino movie. By this point, the only film of his I’d seen was Pulp Fiction. It had not occurred to me that there would be roundabout dialogue, larger-than-life characters and other quirky trademark Tarantino facets in this film. I was quite taken aback that, unlike the trailer which portrayed a mindless action movie where Brad Pitt killed lots of Nazis, this was to be another of Tarantino’s cerebral epics.
- As the cinema was situated in Holland, naturally the film was Dutch-subtitled. This was dandy, except for the fact that around half of the movie is spoken in either French or German; and this is a long movie! Two and a half hours long! The English subtitles had been eradicated, so I had to use my combined knowledge of French, German and Dutch to work out what was going on. A fun mental challenge perhaps, but gruelling when you just want to enjoy a film.
For these very reasons, I felt it was only appropriate that I watched the film once more, with the subtitles I so badly craved, in order to fully appreciate Tarantino’s sixth film. My second watching proved to be a mesmerising experience, and I was blown away by just how fantastic this film is.
Inglourious Basterds is a very different film for Tarantino, in that it is a (fictional) historical drama. Set in World War II, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads a troupe of Jewish soldiers through Nazi-occupied France on a mission to kill as many Nazis as possible. Meanwhile, Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), a Jew who barely escaped with her life after her family was brutally slaughtered by Nazis, runs a cinema in Paris. She becomes acquainted with Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) a German war hero, whose exploits have been made into a film by Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth). Zoller convinces Goebbels to hold the premiere at Shosanna’s cinema, and she resolves to burn the building down with all the Nazis inside. Simultaneously, a British film critic of German cinema, Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) is recruited for “Operation Kino” by General Ed Fenech (Mike Myers) and Winston Churchill (Rod Taylor), a mission involving German film star Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) and the Basterds. The drama is made more exciting when it is revealed that Adolf Hitler (Martin Wuttke) himself will be at the premiere. Personally, I love the plot, far more compelling than the boorish hack ‘n’ slash movie that I’d anticipated. Although things often appear to be going well for the good guys, there’s a fair amount of peril to go around, and the famous shoot-out sequence in the bar shows just how quickly things can escalate in a Tarantino movie.
It goes without saying that the acting here is tremendous, and Tarantino really has a brilliant turnout for this war epic. It was only a matter of time before Pitt and Tarantino would cross paths, and I’m glad it was on this fantastic movie. Michael Fassbender was a pretty new actor at the time, but since this film, he’s made his name in Hollywood with films such as X-Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, Shame and Prometheus. Mike Myers name appeared in the credits at the beginning of the film, but I almost missed him as the British General. He’s not on screen very long, but his accent did fool me. However, the German and French talent must also be admired. In particular, I was pleasantly surprised to see Daniel Brühl, of Good Bye Lenin! fame in this flick. It must be said that his French accent is absolutely parfait. Mélanie Laurent is as stunning as she is cunning, and her held-back hatred of the Nazis can be seen through her body language. However, Christoph Waltz steals the show as the antagonistic ‘Jew Hunter’. He speaks the full gamut of languages here, completely fluently: French, German, English and even Italian. His steely calm behaviour makes him a formidable foe, and my favourite moment of his is when he bursts out laughing after hearing von Hammersmark lie about how she got a cast on her leg. He can see right through almost any character, making for the ultimate ‘bad guy’. I am looking forward to his performance in Django Unchained.
What’s quite brilliant in this movie is how the serious can be mixed with the silly in a way that doesn’t compromise either aspect. Blowing Hitler’s face to smithereens with a machine gun is definitely silly, but the relationship between Frederick and Mélanie shows a sense of maturity that cannot be found elsewhere in the film. Their inevitable death is actually quite poignant. Also, this film is much simpler to follow than other Tarantino films (provided you have the subtitles that is), simply because there’s no drugs or crime involved. Drugs and crime always tend to make things more complicated.
At the end of the film, Brad Pitt pulls away from Christoph Waltz, having just carved a swastika into his forehead and says to B.J. Novak – better known as Ryan from The Office – “You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece.” Given that the next thing we see is Tarantino’s name in the credits, I believe this line to be the director evaluating his own work, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Inglourious Basterds tells an entertaining yet clever story with wittily realised characters to match, and it’s execution is marvellous. It’s certainly on par with Pulp Fiction, and I can’t wait to see if Tarantino will do any better with Django Unchained.