Film review: ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (2009)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Running time: 147 minutes
Produced by: The Weinstein Company
To be given prior warning that Quentin Tarantino is a master of the offbeat genre of movie making still doesn’t quite prepare you for this classic,where deciding who is good, will test your average moral expectations. It is 1943, the Allies have yet to land in Europe as German bad guy Col. Hans Landa aka the Jew hunter ( Christoph Waltz), strikes panic into the hearts of the local village communities with his charming smile and relentless interrogation technique.
A pretty young French-Jewish girl, Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) escapes his merciless execution of her family, and establishes a new identity as a cinema owner. Simultaneously, an Allied plan is enacted sending a small squad of American-Jewish soldiers into occupied France to create an atmosphere of terror and havoc by killing Nazis. American Army Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads this scalp hunting, head splitting, band of brothers across France, frustrating a comic styled Hitler and narcissistic Josef Goebbels as The Fuehrer and his Propaganda minister prepare to launch a major cinematic misinformation program in a small French village theatre.Raine, whose artistic embedding of the swastika into the foreheads of his victims using a Bowie knife, is an inspiration to his troops as they bludgeon their captives to death with baseball bats. After a bloody shootout in the basement of a side-walk café, he meets up with film star and undercover Operative Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). Together they plot the demise of the German High Command at Goebbels’ lavish film premier, unaware that it will be held at the theatre owned by Nazi hater, Shosanna Dreyfus and her black French lover, who have devised a deadly plan of their own.The film is rich in dark humour and there are moments in-between the violence where you want to laugh but the uncertainty of what might come next, holds you back. Christoph Waltz gives a chilling performance as Hitler’s SS detective Hans Landa, such that watching him enjoy a glass of milk in a farmhouse while his subject sits inwardly terrified, or in a restaurant eating apple pie and cream with such poise and refinement while he interrogates the placid Shosanna, leaves you holding your breath and willing her to withstand the mental pressure. Brad Pitt clearly enjoys his character’s easy going, layback style complete with a southern Tennessee twang and his not-quite-there appreciation of the moment, giving us some occasional and cherished moments of comedic respite in the middle of the sadistic manner in which his character Raine, pursues his mission. Claiming an Apache bloodline, Raine chills the blood of the ordinary German soldier at the mention of his name, and his hapless victims shudder at the thought of capture. In return he grants them no quarter. It is, however, the demure and so-lady-like nature of Mélanie Laurent’s character Shosanna Dreyfus, and the devastating nature of her plan for retribution that grips you, as she plots against the German hierarchy, and deals with the unwanted advances of a young German war hero, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl).‘Inglourious Basterds’, is Tarnatino at his very best, with continual action, never a dull moment and a musical score that carries the viewer along at varying speeds whether we like it or not. Cameo appearances by Mike Myers and Australian actor, Rod Taylor almost unrecognisable as Winston Churchill are just another example of Tarantino’s eccentric cinematic mind working overtime. While his critics will find flaws in some scenes, only the most fastidious nit-picking for whatever reason could betray this thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking classic.
Comparisons with earlier features such as ‘The Dirty Dozen’are a waste of time. This film stands alone in creative genius, cinematography and outrageous script writing, and one wonders what Tarantino is dreaming up in the dark recesses of his mind, to top it. Completely absent are the street combat, crumbled buildings, hand to hand fighting and tank battles one expects of a war film; some scenes such as the meeting of the boyish war hero Zoller and Shosanna outside her theatre after the evening’s performance are positively refreshing when set against the harsh realities of an Occupation army. Their exchanges give us a moment to experience some peace and sanity in a fractious world before returning to the brutality we know is just around the corner. Following the fiery climax at the premier, the final scene in the forest where Raine’s Bowie knife cuts deep into Lando’s plans for a safe retirement leave us uncertain for the future of both men and the world at large.
This is not a film for the faint hearted or those who struggle with erratic timelines that zigzag backwards and forwards telling a complicated, interwoven tale not quite consistent with historical realities. One has to keep in mind that with Tarantino we are dealing with a seductively wicked imagination and a penchant for re-writing history the way he thinks it should have happened.