The last line uttered in Tarantino’s latest action pic, Inglourious Basterds, is, “I think this might be my masterpiece.” Is this the film-maker staking his claim? You bet. And is it justified? Absolutely!
Tarantino demonstrates that he is a fine film maker with his latest offering. After the car wreck that was Death Proof, I personally wondered if we had seen all that he had to offer. Undoubtedly the celebrated, pop-infused dialogue of Reservoir Dogs was meritorious and the extended mish-mash of action in Kill Bill 1 enormous fun but it was all recycled and tired by the time we got to Death Proof. What Basterds offers is a “traditional” unfolding of a story, similar to Jackie Brown or Kill Bill 2, only better.
And so the adventure begins with “Once upon a time ...” This is a fairy story, pure and simple, and the story is imbued with a sense of mischievous fun as the characters set about writing their own version of history. Many times, the actors are given time and space to develop the speech and behaviours of their characters – no shaky hand-cam here or two second jump cuts.
Set during “Nazi occupied France” we are introduced to the ultimate in Nazi badness, Colonel Hans Lander, played to perfection by Christoph Waltz. Waltz, a German stage actor not particularly known outside of Europe won Best Actor at Cannes earlier in the year. His nickname is “The Jew Hunter” as his reputation for detective like routing out of hidden Jews is manifest in a ruthless zeal for the job.
As in previous Tarantino outings, the action is punctuated by ‘chapter’ headings. Rather than them just being quirky or in jest, here they contain each episode and like a good novel, have the audience keen to turn just one more page to find out what happens.
Brad Pitt is about the only ‘name’ Hollywood actor hence his picture appears in all the advertising posters. In truth though, he is just one member of a large cast with many French and German actors playing key roles. Pitt is Lt Aldo Raine, the leader of the Basterds, a Jewish-American band of guerrillas dropped behind enemy lines to dispose of as many Nazis as possible. Their Apache style scalping of their victims becomes the stuff of legend amongst the German army and The Bear Jew (Eli Roth) prefers to dispose of his victims in a more patriotic American way.
The story wends its way toward a movie theatre where the four most senior German leaders (Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Bormann) will meet for a film premiere of the latest propaganda feature and the Basterds seek to infiltrate the event and end the war by killing them all. What occurs to whom and when is not easily guessed as the narrative does not let a particular character or celebrity survive where it is not reasonable for them to have done so! The cinema owner’s short film that is inter-cut with the main feature becomes a terrifying angel of destruction as it is projected onto billowing smoke is one of many highlights.
I had read that the violence is extreme in this film and I expected it therefore to be a study in excess à la Kill Bill 1. In truth however what violence exists occurs only in bursts and is necessary for the film to remain true to itself. These were frightening and ruthless times and to somehow sidestep the confrontation would have taken something away from the story.
Tarantino’s geeky film knowledge is extensive and his films are littered with asides, references and homage. I would be fairly certain that the young women in my screening who kept looking at their iPhones, showing each other their latest message and who ended up walking out twice (not just once) would have been lucky to have followed any of the story, let alone known who the heck Emil Jannings, Leni Riefenstahl or Georg Pabst might have been. If only they had stayed out. But Tarantino gives a little bit to each film lover and you wish that such intelligence was evident in more Hollywood, plot driven epics.
5 out of 5.