Like a salmon souffle Quentin Tarantino can be an acquired taste. He is never as fluffy, but a couple of his filmic shenanigans can be as fishy. Some may say that his extended dialogue scenes are long winded, or even boring. Some may find his pastiche derivative, ostentatious, or pretentious. However I like salmon souffle, nay I love it. That also goes for Tarantino’s newest piece of cinematic insanity, “Inglourious Basterds.” Chalk another one in the win column for this crazy, aggressively fun masterpiece. Quentin Tarantino kills and scalps the World War II movie genre, and creates a film that is a must see for any who have even a passing dislike for Nazis.
From the trailer one might assume that the film is just one violent shootout interspersed with blinding bursts of gory knife work, but the film is so much more. With a plot taken from Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian” the Basterds, as the group of Jewish and defected Nazi soldiers are nicknamed by their prey, have a mission that consists of “One thing, and one thing only. Killing Nazis,” says Lt. Aldo Raine (played to admirably cheesy heights by Brad Pitt). They exist as a force of mayhem behind enemy lines scalping Nazis where ever they might find them.
With a wink and a nod to the many overblown structures of past films like “The Longest Day,” “A Bridge Too Far,” or “Paris Is Burning” “Basterds” has tons going on. From a Jewish movie theater owner who seeks revenge against the Third Reich for the killing of her family, to the British movie critic who goes undercover as an SS Captain this film is bursting at the seams with mind blowing silliness, all shown with a sternly serious glare.
Out of his oeuvre this is QT’s most linear picture. Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) means to launch his newest propaganda film starring war hero and national treasure Nick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) at the theater of incognito Jew Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent). Attending will be all the luminaries of the Third Reich, and the Basterds plan to blow it up with help from German Film Actress Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) and a Brit Film Critic Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender).
The film is cut up into chapters reminiscent of Sam Fuller’s “The Big Red One,” a frequent QT touchstone, but the references don’t quit there. The opening scene where Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) visits a French dairy farm looking for Jews is straight Sergio Leone with the Ennio Merricone guitar rendition “Fur Elise” adding to the authenticity. Later as Shoshanna gets ready for the premiere of the film within the film, “Nation’s Pride,” David Bowie’s “Cat People” blares over numerous melodramatic dissolves. Tarantino quoting Schrader which was a remake of a Val Lewton picture. QT’s video store youth was obviously not misspent.
Tarantino’s films have always been about film making itself, but none so much as this. The main characters are theater owners, actors, propagandists, and critics, all soldiers fighting for their respective causes. They are all slaughtered in the war that is film making. When Shoshanna burns down her theater using thousands of feet of film as the catalyst she is literally destroying the war films that make up her living. As two Jewish suicide bombers (irony never lost) blow up the upper command of the Third Reich Tarantino destroys Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering rewriting history, killing the villains so that no one else can use them in any other film. With typical hubris he deals a violent death to an entire genre.
The film’s climax is the most telling. As her face is projected on the smoke billowing from the burning screen Shoshanna screams, “This is Jewish revenge!” Like Aldo Raine carving Swastikas into the forehead of any Nazis who the Basterds let go, marking them so that they and everyone else will never forget what they once were. Is “Jewish revenge” a play on the cliche that Hollywood is run by Jews, and Hollywood will never cease to churn out World War 2 movies? Are these films the Swastika on the collective German forehead, never letting the country forget the horrors their fathers and grandfathers perpetrated?
Tarantino’s script is filled with long dialogue scenes, some of which might be thought of as over long or self-indulgent if their structure didn’t serve a purpose. His writing and directing always go hand in hand as he utilizes the fun, yet seemingly banal dialogue to build tension. Each long dialogue scene is like a ticking time bomb in a true Hitchcockian sense. The audience knows that the situations will explode into violence, but as the moments stretch on and on the tension builds. Tarantino plays the audiences expectations, and emotions like New York Philharmonic violinist.
All of the acting is way above the bar. Laurent’s Shoshanna is both vulnerable and ferocious. Pitt seems like he couldn’t be having much more fun reminding us all that beneath that movie star there is a powerfully good character actor. Only being in one scene, the opening scene, Denis Menochet turns in a memorable five minutes as the ill fated Dairy farmer, evoking enough pathos in his stoic face to break even the shavenist of Skinheads’ hearts. The scene stealer, however, is Christoph Waltz. His Lander, the Jew hunter, takes over any scene in which he is placed. Both funny and terrifying he is the best type of villain, one that you secretly want to win. The fact is that he’s a Nazi and you wanting him to win is just another one of QT’s devilish touches.
Not having much to do director Eli Roth is fine as Donnie “The Bear Jew” Donnowitz. What is hilarious about his character is that he beats people over the head with a baseball bat to get his point across. Not particularly funny in and of itself, but the in-your-face gore and violence of Roth’s “Hostel” and “Hostel 2” feel much like he is beating you over the head there as well, and could have been a little inside joke from Tarantino.
While all of Tarantino’s films have been interesting and fun, this picture is by far the most intellectual. There are enough ideas swirling around under the surface in this picture to make your head spin. That said from the amazing opening scene to the jaw dropping climax “Inglourious Basterds” is pure fun.
El Luchador Rating: 5 out of 5 (5 out of 5)
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)