After Tarantino ditched the suited, gangster goings on of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Bell for the super stylized shenanigans of the Kill Bill saga, fans were intrigued to see where the prince of pop culture would go next. However, while his stint of trying to bring the dubious pleasures of Grindhouse to the masses met with mixed results, his spirited assault upon the war genre gave us a return to form which also informed us as to where Tarantino’s career would be heading in next.
Taking all the usual Tarantinoisms (is that a word?) we’ve come to expect such as seemingly irrelevant conversations, teeth rattling violence and agonisingly tense stand offs, he adds an audacious revisionist streak, a slow burn aesthetic and a skilled ear for transporting his trademark dialogue into gripping, multi lingual chats.
Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France, various players in a tangled plot all find themselves caught in an irresistible spiral that draws them all to a small cinema in Paris on an auspicious night.
One of these is Hans Lander, a incredibly precise and very geralous SS officer known as the Jew Hunter who opens the movie by seeking out and exterminating a Jewish family hiding out on a farm. The only surviving member is daughter Shosanna who manages to escape the slaughter and years later has relocated to Paris to run a cinema where she’s repeatedly approached by young German sniper, Fredrick Zoller who is appearing in a movie hailing his efforts for taking out 250 enemy soldiers in battle. Due his obvious affection for the young woman and his closeness to Joseph Goebbels, he manages to secure her establishment for the premiere which give Shosanna a radical idea.
Meanwhile, running roughshod across the french countryside are a Jewish-American commando unit known for their brutal terror tactics dubbed the Basterds and under the command of lieutenant Aldo Raine, they’re notorious for either scalping their victims, bashing their brains in with a baseball bat or carving a swastika into the foreheads of the rare soldiers they’ve left alive to tell the tale.
After word gets out about the premiere, the Allieds launch Operation Kino, sending Brit Lieutenant Archie Hicox behind enemy lines to rendezvous with the Basterds and subsequently meet up with undercover agent and German film star Bridget von Hammersmark to attend the glitzy event with the assassination of the Fürher himself in mind.
Of course this is a World War II movie – in fact it’s a Quentin Tarantino-World War II movie – so you can bet pounds to marks that things will go hideously wrong in darkly humorous ways…
Then first thing you realise while watching Inglorious Basterds is how much the camp brutality of Kill Bill has opened up Tarantino’s world to mixing up his style with a wider genre focus – bear in mind he’s not made a feature film set in the present day since – and how he manages to integrate his usual idiosyncrasies into the realms of the period film. Characters still natter on about popular culture (comparisons between German cinema under the eye of Goebbels with his American opposites show just how deep Tarantino’s love of cinema goes) and the director’s story hopping antics probably work better here then they ever have before as the different chapters mean that much like Kill Bill, only the integral parts of the story are focused on. However, while Quentin gets to also scratch an itch about everyone in war movies speaking english by having the language barrier being a massive plot point on more than one occasion (more than half of the movie is in subtitles), where Inglorious Basterds really shines is in its performances. Brad Pitt’s baritone drawl is everything, infusing his no-nonsense Raines with possibly some of the driest comedy in the director’s filmography so far while Michael Fassbender gives great stiff upper lip as his unflappable, multilingual commando, but the most memorable stuff comes from the less familiar faces. Diane Kruger, shorn from the pressure of being the female lead in vapid american blockbusters, is nothing less than a fucking revelation as quick thinking German starlet von Hammersmark and shines thanks to being free to use her native language. Also impressive is Daniel Brühl – who introduces us to that mixture of charm and vaguely creepy intelligence that’s served him so well over the last ten years since – and Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna gives great angel of vengeance. However, stealing the show lock, stock and barrel is the star making turn of Christoph Waltz, who takes the already memorable dialogue and turns it into music with the delightfully complicated Hans Landa. Throwing out words the way others throw out bullets, the fiendishly charismatic SS officer obviously delights in being the smartest man in the room while hiding under a pretense of humility and is gleefully hissable and horribly funny (“Ooh That’s a bingo!”). Essentially the human embodiment of psychological warfare, whether he’s changing up the story about his feelings on his unofficial title to switching up accents to disarm his victims, he may be the single greatest character to emerge from Tarantino’s pantheon of gangsters, lunatics and vengence fueled anti-heroes.
One thing that’s vital to a men on a mission World War II movie is a sense of tension as the movie drags out at least one unbearable moment where the good guys are almost sniffed out by the Nazis; Inglorious Basterds is essentially loaded with them – Shosanna stuck having desert with Landa, internally praying that he doesn’t recognize her; the rendezvous between the Basterds and von Hammersmark immediately going south and let’s not forget the opening scene which has Landa engage in a seemingly gently chat with a milk farmer that’s sodden with latent dread.
The final aspect that seals Inglorious Basterds fate as an instant modern classic is the director’s audacious choice to flip a defiant two fingers at history and deliver a revisionist romp that has no issue with blaring out Cat People by David Bowie and decimating the Third Reich with face chewing machine gun fire that certainly wasn’t included in any WWII doc I’ve ever seen.
History nuts will be horrified, but that’s not the point. Inbetween the swastika forehead carvings, hilariously mangled attempts at Italian and a scene where Quentin actually choked out Diane Kruger for real (stepping up from your usual foot fetish there, Quentin?), Inglorious Basterds easily ranks among the director’s best and winningly swas-sticks it to the Nazis in his typically savage fashion.
Most definately “a bingo”.