Fan-boy favorite writer-director Quentin Tarantino, who has made what is arguably one of the greatest films of all-time in Pulp Fiction, reveals his passion project to the world with Inglourious Basterds; a WWII fantasy revenge movie that is several years in the making. This is a world where a man nicknamed the “Jew Hunter” seeks to instill fear in any Jew (or those aiding them, as the first scene coolly reveals), during the war. But this is a Tarantino work, so a polarizing opposition has to be evident to present obstacles to the Nazi Reign. That opposition is found in a group of rag-tag hooligans called the “Inglourious Basterds.”
The plot, fairly straight forward in theory, though it gets a bit more convoluted in execution, is about a group of Nazi hunters who seek to assassinate Hitler (not unlike Valkyrie) and his chief men in charge in order to bring an end to the war. Heading up this underground operation, much to Hitler’s consternation (a great performance from Martin Wuttke) is Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine, leader of the titular “Basterds.” Aldo and his band of renegades have made a name for themselves becoming Nazi bulletin-board fodder, with tales of murder by any cruel means necessary hoping to make any Nazi sleep with one eye open in fear at night. Their success in this endeavor has been enough to cause heighten anxiety for the Fuhrer and his crew. Truthfully, getting too much deeper into the plot might be fruitless at this juncture but I’ll give a bit more.
Diane Kruger makes her mark as Bridget von Hammersmark, a German actress of the highest order, who with her own crew of troops (including a strong Michael Fassbender) is trying to also get to Hitler during a film screening. That screening is to be held at the cinema of a former escaped Jew (hunted by the aforementioned “Jew Hunter,” Col. Hans Landa), who is the object of desire of the film’s star, a Nazi war-hero who gunned down nearly 300 men from a sniper tower, Private Fredrick Zoller. Eventually, various teams of Nazi haters and hunters are all individually hatching their own schemes to get at Adolf. Which team is able to survive and succeed becomes the fun of the film.
Tarantino virtually acknowledges that his characters are participating in a film, as some of the film takes place within a cinema with a packed house watching along on the big screen. Irony drips. Several of Quentin’s elements translate this as well. Eli Roth’s Sgt. Donny Donowitz, “The Jew Bear” that bludgeons Nazi’s to death with his baseball bat, is the man who Aldo claims “watching him work is the closest thing we ever get to seeing a movie in a theater.” There are graphic close-ups of Nazi’s being scalped, since Aldo “wants his scalps!” Overall, QT places a great deal of trust in his actors and creates tension in the deception of the story throughout.
The scene-stealer in the film is Christoph Waltz as Landa and make no mistake, while Pitt gets the marquee, it is Waltz’ Landa that is the real star in the film. He exhibits all sorts of range here, clearly embracing the devilish delight with which he has the opportunity to portray. His storyline is the one that singularly resonates throughout. This will undoubtedly garner him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars (unless he receives a push in the Best Actor category).
Inglourious Basterds is a slow paced, dialogue heavy film, with spurts of violence mixed in. This is what has become typical of Tarantino’s works of late as he seems more enamored with the dialogue that his characters regurgitate than telling the story in a timely manner. It is interspersed with Quentin’s trademark humor, most of it coming in the form awkward silences in situations of trepidation (for all the characters). While the film is solid and above average, it fails to wow you. I was entertained but not moved. I was interested but never blown away at any point.
Still, you can’t deny QT as an auteur. He clearly made the movie that he wanted to make. It’s deliberate pace and prosaic dialogue allows his actors (primarily Pitt and Waltz) to chew their scenery to the hilt. The movie itself though doesn’t really result in much. It’s fun but not overly so; it doesn’t have the cool cache of his best films, nor does it have an incredibly layered story. In the end, you watch rather than deeply experience, and move on. In that regard, I don’t think Quentin achieved the ultimate result that he was hoping for. However, all of that being said, Basterds is one of the best movies I have seen so far this year, which feels more of an indictment on the movies that I have seen thus far though, rather than the greatness of this film.