I think you show great talent. And I pride myself on having an eye for that kind of talent. Your status as a Nazi killer is… still amateur. We all come here to see if you wanna go pro. -Aldo Raine
Just as the trailers were ending, I realized that Inglourious Basterds was the very first Tarantino film I’ve seen on the big screen. When the opening credits came out in all their Tarantino-esque glory (his continued use of “guest stars” made me laugh out loud), I knew we were in for a fun show.
Inglourious Basterds tells two different, but intersecting, stories of Europe in 1944. First, there’s Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) a French Jew who just barely escapes the slaughtering of her family by the vicious Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). After she acquires a theater in Paris, a German war hero/movie star smitten with her convinces his director to have their movie premiere in her theater. Knowing that her theater will house hundreds of high Nazi officials, she plans her revenge.
Around the same time, a group of Jewish American soldiers are dropped into Nazi-occupied France with a sole purpose: to locate and brutally kill as many Nazis as they can. Their leader, Lt. Aldo “the Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt), honors his Apache heritage by demanding 100 Nazi scalps from each of his men. And they are happy to oblige. When they learn hundreds of Nazi officials will be at a film premiere in Paris, they prepare a massacre.
There are some great characters in this movie, both from a writing and an acting standpoint. To be honest, there are so many great performances, it will be hard to list them all within this review. Waltz does a fantastic job with Landa; he has that perfect mixture of charm and menace that makes for a great villain. It’s fun to watch him, but you’re still afraid for those whom he chooses to hunt. Laurent is strong as Shosanna, who must live in secret among the people who murdered her family. Diane Kruger really shines as Bridget von Hammersmark, the charming German actress/double agent. American audiences know her best from the National Treasure movies and it was great to see her act in her native language. I also especially like Michael Fassbender as British movie reviewer-turned soldier Archie Hicox and Eli Roth (best known as the director of Hostel) as baseball bat wielding, violence craving Donny Donnowitz. The Office’s BJ Novak plays a smaller role, but his reaction after being told his nickname among German soldiers is “The Little Man” is priceless.
But the real treasure of this movie is Pitt’s performance. You can tell when he’s really having fun with a character and Raine is certainly one of those characters. Sure, it’s a little over the top, but it’s done in just the right way. Every line he speaks is so delicious, so perfectly delivered. When he pretends to be an Italian, the bad Italian accent mixed with his already heavy southern accent made me almost fall out of my seat, it was that funny. There are also a few great cameos in this movie. Samuel L. Jackson narrates a few scenes (I knew it was him instantly). Mike Myers has an interesting role as an elderly British General, but he does a pretty good job at staying between interesting and just plain silly.
There are four different languages spoken in the film. I absolutely hate it in films when people whose first languages aren’t English speak English with each other for no reason except to avoid giving the audiences subtitles. The fact that a good amount of this film is in French and German is really refreshing and because so many of these actors are French or German, it’s fun to watch them act in their native tongues. It brought a level of authenticity you don’t get to see in most American made movies. Because I speak a little German, it was also fun for me personally to keep up with the dialogue as best as I could while reading the subtitles. The only problem is that in a few scenes, it’s hard to tell who can understand the language spoken and who can’t. This doesn’t happen very often, but it changes how you see certain characters’ motives.
The crowning achievement of this film is how good the individual scenes are. There are a few particular scenes in this movie that will become favorites for film fans. The opening scene, the restaurant scene and the pub scene are all filled to the brim with tension. You feel the fear along with the characters. And I am usually good at guessing what’s going to happen next in films, but with Inglourious Basterds, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Anyone was fair game, anything could have happened. I can say honestly that I was surprised by most of the plot twists. There were only two times toward the end where I figured it out, but even then I couldn’t be completely positive I was right.
You slowly figure out that this is very much an alternate universe of WWII Europe. For one, the Basterds are Jewish soldiers that apparently know quite well what the Third Reich is doing to Jews in Europe. In reality, the American public didn’t know about the Holocaust until after the war, but in the movie, this knowledge gives our “heroes” the motive to torture and kill. There is also the biggest historical inaccuracy in all of filmdom toward the end of the film, but to name it here would ruin the movie. Needless to say, you’ll know it when you see it and it proves that the film is not supposed to fit into the real events of that time (unless we’re all being lied to).
There were only a few things that weren’t on point in the movie. There were a few of the Basterds that weren’t really talked about. They were in the background, but didn’t have any lines. They were also a bit absent toward the end of the film and there is no real explanation. I was hoping for a bit more about the individual members of the group and I was disappointed that only about half of the original members were given some detail. In fact, the majority of the scenes involving the Basterds themselves were already shown in the trailers and I really wanted to see more of them as a group as well.
Something that made me squeamish was how they treated German foot soldiers. While they don’t kill all of the Germans, the ones they let go are also branded so that everyone knows they are Nazis. I’m a second generation German American and had a great uncle that was forced to fight in the war. He was far from a Nazi and even though this is a fictional story, it was difficult to imagine him in that position, being treated that way. This isn’t actually a flaw of the film; on the contrary, the film is about mercilessness and it would be out of character for Raine to show mercy, but it made it harder for me to enjoy the movie knowing that in this story, to be German means to be a Nazi.
Overall: Great acting all around, beautifully constructed scenes and a fun energy, Inglourious Basterds is one of Tarantino’s best.
4 out of 5 stars