I SAY, WELL PLAYED.
It took me a long time to sit down and write this for two reasons: 1) I had to see Inglourious Basterds more than once; 2) I needed some time to digest the movie and let it roll around in my head for a while.
In Nazi-occupied France, Hans Landa is hunting Jews in the countryside. He stumbles across a farmer hiding a family beneath his floorboards; his men shoot and kill all but one member of the Jewish family, Shosanna, who escapes and makes her way to Paris. A few years later, a mostly Jewish unit(the Basterds) sneaks into France, killing and maiming Nazi soldiers to exact vengeance upon them. Shosanna manages to operate a cinema in Paris which causes Frederick Zoller, a Nazi war hero, to notice her. Through Zoller’s influence, Shosanna’s cinema is selected to host a new German propaganda film starring Zoller. The Basterds, who are aided by double agent Bridget Von Hammersmark, make their way to Paris to blow up the premiere. But Shosanna has plans of her own for the Nazi high command.
Inglourious Basterds is a long, lengthy work of beauty and horrible things. It is a comment on cinema the likes of which Tarantino has never approached before. Some of the scenes, like Landa’s pleasant interrogation of a French farmer and Shosanna preparing to burn down her cinema with Hitler and the Nazi High Command inside will be long, long remembered.
Shosanna splices in to Nation’s Pride, the Nazi propaganda film, a film of her laughing at the Nazis and explaining what’s going to happen to them. Likewise, Tarantino has essentially spliced in his own movie to the great cinematic reel of World War II movies, allowing for a tale of Jewish vengeance and retribution to play out in a grossly historically inaccurate way.
It should be noted that the Basterds actually are not the focal point of the story, but rather Shosanna. It is she who actually succeeds in burning the theater down (the Basterds, unknown to her, supply some explosives). A Jewish woman is who takes down the high command of the Third Reich, who offers up her own cinematic spectacle to counter their own self-congratulating nonsense. And Melanie Laurent does a remarkable job as Shosanna every step of the way.
Daniel Bruhl as Zoller and Christoph Waltz as Landa are the main Nazi baddies; Waltz in particular has received an outpouring of adoration over his well played role. Indeed, he plays Landa as an urbane, polished man who’s an opportunist at heart. Landa is slickly conniving and politely questioning with his own set of eccentricities. However, Daniel Bruhl also does remarkably well as Frederick Zoller, the Nazi private who won’t give up on wooing Shosanna. He seems affable and unthreatening at the outset, gradually growing more and more persistent the more Shosanna rebuffs him, finally showing his true colors at the end.
It is Eli Roth who is the one weak link in the chain, for as much as I like Eli, he’s good in parts but when he’s bad, he’s really quite bad. He can’t seem to commit to the Boston accent (strange, considering he’s from Boston) and waffles in between cold eyed rage and an over-the-top Boston stereotype. He redeems himself mostly in scenes at the end with Omar Doom, the both of them pretending to be Italian cameramen with some hilarious consequences. Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz upstages them both with far less dialogue.
There’s two voiceover sequences which is odd for Tarantino, considering both feel jarring in the movie. Aside from that, Tarantino maintains a steady building tension throughout the movie that leads up to a literally explosive ending.
It is not perfect, but it is one of Tarantino’s better films. The end in particular deals a lot in irony, but it is World War II set in an area of the world — cinema — that Tarantino can relate and tell a story through best.
If we were grading on the star system? 3.875 out of four. (Blame the Russian judge for the few tenths deduction.)