Perhaps Quentin Tarantino learned the lesson from Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and edited his title so that it would not be censored in advertisements and on movie posters. Perhaps he once again wished to evoke the feeling of the slap-dash production of grind house movies. Or maybe he’s just Quentin Tarantino and he can do whatever he feels like. After all this is the man who inserted an anime scene in a Uma Thurman revenge flick or created a blaxploitation flick in the mid-1990’s. Despite his reputation for innovation, Tarantino doesn’t do anything particularly ground-breaking in Inglourious Basterds, yet the film holds all of his usual hallmarks as a director. Long, witty dialogue, copious amounts of blood, and classic movie allusions are ever present in the film, so much so that movie-goers almost wish to shout “We get it, you’re Quentin Tarantino!” But why mess with success? With the exception of Death Proof, Tarantino’s formula has always been a hit, and once again it works.
Some directors/writers, notably George Lucas, have never been blessed in writing dialogue, and their movies suffer as a result. Tarantino is the polar opposite; he is the master of creating tension despite the length of some of his film’s conversations. There is a wonderful scene in the beginning of the film where Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (also known as the Jew Hunter) genially asks a French farmer in his own house about Jewish families in the area. The farmer hems and haws while Col. Landa subtly threatens the farmer with dire consequences for him and his three daughters. The effect keeps the audience on the edge of their seats trying to see which one will crack first…and then the camera pans down under the wooden floor of the kitchen to reveal a hidden Jewish family, petrified in horror and desperately attempting to keep silent, as the friendly conversation continues overhead The audience’s stress level is ratcheted up, really almost against their will as they wait to see who will win this battle of wills. Tarantino’s other two major trademarks: his tributes to past films and his penchant for violence are also paramount in the film. Inglourious Basterds will remind moviegoers of the Clint Eastwood/Charles Bronson “spaghetti western” films. The twanging banjos in the soundtrack will drive this point home with a sledgehammer to the point of obnoxiousness. Add this to the film noir effect from “Casablanca” and you have one weird film that somehow works.
The advertising for Inglourious Basterds featured Brad Pitt front and center, yet for all of the focus on him and the rest of the “Basterds”, they are barely in half of the film, which is a good thing since they are perhaps the weakest part of the film. Pitt, who portrays Lt. Aldo Raine, is funny, no doubt, but he doesn’t bring anything substantial to his role as leader of the Basterds besides a ridiculous Southern accent and a few well-timed witticisms. Two other actors, the Austrian-born Christoph Waltz and the French-born Melanie Laurent steal the show. Waltz, who portrays the aforementioned Colonel Hans Landa, deserves to earn an Oscar nomination, in my opinion with his portrayal of the genial, charming yet chilling “Jew-hunter”. It is odd that the scariest Nazi is Landa, since Hitler, Goebbels, Bohrmann, and Goering are prominent, but Waltz manages to deliver an affable Nazi who borders on the edge of absurdity, who also masks a terrifying relentlessness, determination and ingenuity. Ms. Laurent portrays the vengeful Jewish survivor Shoshanna, the sole survivor of her family from one of Landa’s hunts, who is running a Parisian theater in disguise as a gentile. After she crosses paths with German war hero Frederick Zoller and Joseph Goebbels in Paris, she commences her plan of revenge along with her African-French boyfriend Marcel. Just like Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill 1 & 2) and Pam Grier (Jackie Brown), Laurent is one of Tarantino’s “femme fatales”. The performances by Laurent and Waltz by far the more intriguing portions of the film and it saddens me that “Basterds” were given top billing in the title.
Because Quentin Tarantino has pulled out all of his usual directorial techniques and styles, it appeals to a certain fan base. Simply stated, those who like Tarantino films will love it, but those who do not will consider it trash. Those who are only casually familiar with his work should be reminded that Tarantino definitely has a mind of his own, and will not sacrifice his vision to make his film more palatable to the average filmgoer, which is especially evident in certain portions of the film where he decides to ignore actual history in favor of his own vision. Perhaps it’s not as good as Pulp Fiction, but I would rate it as his second best film.