There are a number of things I expect when I sit down to watch a Quentin Tarantino film: violence, profane yet snappy dialogue, innovative cinematography, lots of blood, and probably a disfigurement or two. For those of you who are the fan of the man and of his reputation in today’s film world, I can tell you that his latest film, Inglourious Basterds, does not disappoint.
If the Kill Bill movies were an homage to samurai films, then Inglourious Basterds is a tribute to French New Wave cinema and German film. Of course, it’s been argued that Tarantino’s work as a whole is one giant ode to that era of French film, but in film that is at least half spoken en français, the comparisons become even more apparent. However, the only thing Tarantino is more reminiscent of than French New Wave is Tarantino himself. Basterds looks and sounds a lot like Kill Bill at times, borrowing shots and music from his House of Blue Leaves sequence. You have to wonder whether or not the noticeable similarities were simply laziness on Tarantino’s part or if he know something we don’t: that there’s an irony to the fact that The RZA and Charles Bernstein’s “Crane/White Lightning” fits seamlessly into both a samurai fight and a pseudo New Wave film.
The film, set in Nazi occupied World War II era France, tells two parallel tales: the first, of the Basterds, a group of soldiers infamous for their unique methods of taking care of Nazis and the second of Shosanna Dreyfus, a theater owner who suddenly finds herself the acquaintance of a German soldier. The two plots, though seemingly independent of one another at first, both revolve around plots to kill Hitler and put an end to the Third Reich. It’s told in chapter format, much like Tarantino’s other films, in bits and pieces that eventually pull themselves together by the film’s end. The technique doesn’t work as well here as it did in Tarantino’s previous work, as a plot device rather than simply being a way to switch gears between the two plots.
Without a doubt, Brad Pitt steals the show during the Basterds sequences, as their no-nonsense leader Lieutenant Aldo Raine a.k.a. “Aldo the Apache”, an American who’d rather scalp a Nazi than let them repent for their sins. He’s brutal and downright humorous at times, and while I wouldn’t say that Pitt is so emerged in the role that you forget who you’re watching, he’s still highly enjoyable. But if we’re making predictions about nominations (and I’m sure people are), if anyone’s going to get one, it’ll be Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa, “The Jew Hunter”. He’s delightfully villainous in a way that makes you both hate and admire him at the same time, and while you’re rooting for the good guys to win, you can’t help but think that Landa’s pretty badass.
Like all Tarantino films, Basterds is not for the feint of heart or the squeamish (yes, you do get to see a scalping or two), but for those who are already fans of the director, it’s everything you’d come to expect from his take on Nazi occupied France. Inglourious Basterds is violent, gritty, unexpectedly funny when it shouldn’t be and really just an enjoyable watch all around. While the movie clocks in at just over two and a half hours, the time flies by like it’s nothing at all.
And yes, there’s even an explanation for the spelling of the title, if you’re paying close enough attention.