Inglourious Basterds (2009)

“Actually, Werner, we’re all tickled to here you say that. Quite frankly, watchin’ Donny beat Nazis to death is the closest we ever get to goin’ to the movies.”

After seeing the 6th film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, one does not simply say grazie and oblige without the same emphasis, gusto, and southern Tennessee accent that Lieutenant Aldo Raine aka Aldo “The Apache” (Brad Pitt) says it with. It just isn’t possible, even when mouthing the two words under your breathe – its addicting. Just like a drug Tarantino’s films have become an addiction you didn’t know you needed. If the trailer is a taste spread across the gums, the finished product is the high. Once the film starts, the itch is scratched, and the adrenaline pumps from the increasingly mounted tension the talented director infuses into each scene. 

All the familiar techniques in films passed that Tarantino has expertly utilized come back into play. The revolving shot first used in his debut Reservoir Dogs and in Death Proof gives the impression that we as the audience are involved in the conversation with the characters the camera is circling. In this case, it’s during the final chapter of the film, the climax when Shosanna Dreyfus disguised as Emmanuelle Mimieux (Mélanie Laurent) enacts her deadly plan to burn down her cinema during the premiere of “Nation’s Pride” with the highest-ranking Nazi Party officials including Adolf Hitler (Martin Wuttke) himself trapped inside with nowhere to escape the blazing fire.

Originally written a decade prior, with the character of Shosanna embodying many of the traits The bride would come to be known for, the director first put out the two-part Kill Bill and Death Proof due to the incomplete and uncracked screenplay. And then decided to completely change Shosanna in the process. Probably for the better of the film. Everything that Tarantino has put out to date doesn’t give off a half-assed vibe. Each story told is fully conceptualized and finished from the fade in to the first frame to the last. Everything in between, whether it’s a dialogue heavy scene or action packed and full of gory deliciousness has a purpose. What seems to be Tarantino’s most underrated strengths (at least in my opinion) is the attention to detail – its meticulous, every detail is accounted for, always. 

As the title suggests, the so called “Basterds” are a group of Jewish born, mostly American citizens who are deployed in Nazi occupied France to exterminate the Nazi’s with extreme prejudice. The head of the Basterds is Aldo Raine who expects each Basterd in his employ to be cruel to the Germans in disembowelment and disfigurations. “And they will find the evidence of our cruelty of their brothers we leave behind us” as he speaks to his recruits. One requirement of the Basterds – 100 Nazi scalps from each of the eight men. And those who are spared life after running into the Basterds gets a lifelong reminder of their transgressions long after the uniform is taken off and burned.

Pitted against the Basterd’s is Hans Landa aka “The Jew Hunter” (Christoph Waltz) of the SS; a man who regards himself as the best detective because of the methods he uses to find people and a true hater of the nickname his enemies have gifted him. While Tarantino juxtaposes Donny Donowitz aka “The Bear Jew” (Eli Roth) who embraces the nickname the Germans have dubbed him. 

Setting the tone for Inglourious Basterds involves Hans Landa interviewing a French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Ménochet) about the ware abouts of the Dreyfus family, on the run from the Germans. Two things that stand out the most in this opening scene – 1 being the dialogue; Tarantino’s strength as a screenwriter comes from the dense yet engrossing dialogue between characters and 2 the atmospheric tension that’s built as the two men discuss the hidden family below the floorboards. 

Beyond the main plot comes multiple sub-plots that add to the overall depth of the film. Because of how well the main story is told the overlooked sub-plot of Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) might be under-appreciated. But nonetheless, it’s a full story away from the straight path that ultimately merges in with the climax. Tarantino’s eye for casting is continuously felt with Brühl. Equally charming and innocent, the actor possesses a darker side that comes when the moment is right.  While everything with the Basterds and Landa is unfolding, the film never once loses momentum when the focus is shifted away because of how rich this revisionist version of Nazi occupied France is. 

 I could watch Mike Myers as General Ed Frenech talk film criticism with Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) all day. As a matter of fact, any combination of characters from this film I can enjoy together for hours on end. 

From the beginning we as the audience see how dangerous Hans Landa is – he doesn’t think the way a normal German officer thinks – even comparing Germans to hawks when instead they should be thinking like rats. With the softest cadence and a terrifying smile that can instill the fear of God in anyone, Christoph Waltz gives a brilliant performance. He’s simply fascinating, playing the role with an intelligence that he never lets anyone in on the secret of how smart he is. Landa is steps ahead of everyone else, even when others think they have the upper hand. 

From there, clocking in at 153 minutes, Inglourious Basterds feels like 90 minutes. Time simply passes by once sucked into the narrative. Methodically paced, each scene has a purpose with no time wasted in exposition. Tarantino shows us his cards, foreshadowing the next scene but still makes it unpredictable. What sounds like a simple enough operation from the British on an intelligence grab turns into a massacre in a pub while the birth of a new baby is being celebrated. Always expect the unexpected from Tarantino. His perfectionism stands out along with the attention to detail in how Germans indicate the number 3 with their fingers. Something Lieutenant Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) got wrong as an undercover German soldier. 

Inglourious Basterds is a powerhouse of revisionist history. It’s a spin on actual events that only the twisted mind of Tarantino can come up with. Just as brutal, bloody, and unforgiving as Kill Bill but just as thought-provoking, energetic, and engrossing as Jackie Brown. It’s the director’s best effort that features his strongest ensemble cast. You may recognize a familiar voice narrating the whole bloody operation. Was this sort of story asked for? Probably not but now that its out there, its a film we can’t ever live without. The writer director gets the best out of his performers especially here with multiple languages, fluencies and dialects spoken. 

In just 6 films, Tarantino has proved his talent well within the sandbox his stories live and breathe in. And the cherry on top, something that has been included since Pulp Fiction is a foot shot solely for the director’s fetish.

Written By: Quentin Tarantino

Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

Cinematography: Robert Richardson

Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, Mélanie Laurent, August Diehl, Julie Dreyfus, Sylvester Groth, Jackie Ido, Denis Menochet, Mike Myers, B. J. Novak

Release Date: August 21, 2009

Running Time: 2 Hours 33 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

My Score: 4.5 out of 5

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