Inglorious Basterds


By Guy Davis

With his long-awaited WWII movie ”Inglourious Basterds”, Quentin Tarantino telegraphs his intentions pretty early in the piece – the first ‘chapter’ of the movie is titled ‘Once Upon a Time in Nazi-occupied France’.

The fairy-tale quality of that title indicates that realism maybe isn’t Tarantino’s highest priority.

And it also conjures up memories of the great Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone, whose bold, bloody epics ”Once Upon a Time in the West” and ”Once Upon a Time in America” would appear to be among the many influences Tarantino has drawn upon for his own film.

So what you’re getting with ”Inglourious Basterds” is another Tarantino tribute reel.

Just as the two-part ”Kill Bill” paid homage to Asia’s martial-arts pictures and ”Death Proof” honoured the hotted-up B-movie, this film is both his nod to the war story and his acknowledgement of European cinema that’s both high art and down-and-dirty.

From any other filmmaker, this relentless sampling would soon start getting stale. But Tarantino’s truly expansive knowledge of film history and pop culture, combined with his undeniable talents as a writer and director, gives him an edge.

There’s no denying that ”Inglourious Basterds” is a bit of a tough sell – it’s an ultra-violent, ultra-talkative WWII fantasy with a mostly unfamiliar cast and a running time of nearly three hours, after all – but those people on its wavelength will certainly find much to enjoy.

The ‘basterds’ of the title are the US soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Aldo Raine, enjoyable played by Brad Pitt with a molasses-thick drawl and a manic glint in his eye. The squad has been dropped into France with a single objective: “Killin’ Nat-zees”.

And the basterds aren’t the only ones targeting the Third Reich – British officer Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) and German movie star Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) are collaborating on a top-secret plan to take out several high-ranking Nazis.

Then there’s Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), who’s willing to sacrifice everything to avenge the murder of her family at the hands of the charismatic but sadistic Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a.k.a. ‘The Jew Hunter’.

All their schemes converge at the Paris cinema run by Shosanna, where the Reich’s top brass – including Hitler himself – are gathering to watch a propaganda film starring the German army’s sharpshooting hero, Friedrich Zoller (Daniel Bruhl).

Composed of five chapters, ”Inglourious Basterds” – which takes its title from a 1978 Italian war movie – showcases Tarantino’s skill-set in various ways.

He can conjure up a tremendous sense of tension by simply having two people talking. He can use a moment of horrifying violence to shift an audience’s loyalties. He can take a piece of music that shouldn’t work at all – a David Bowie track in a WWII movie? – and make it seem like the perfect choice.

And once again, his eye for casting proves unerring. Everyone is excellent but the star here is little-known Austrian actor Waltz, whose seductively evil performance is kind of a masterpiece.