When you give someone like Quentin Tarantino an open slate to do whatever the hell he wants, the results can be unbelievable. He has made films in the past that have defined and defiled genres. Borrowing heavily from the things that only true film geeks know about, Tarantino is constantly growing as a director and, more importantly, as a storyteller.
With Inglorious Basterds, we are treated to not only a brilliant war story, but a film that looks as exquisite as the screenplay behind it. Tarantino has come a long way since Reservoir Dogs, allowing his screenplays to breathe a little, take their time where necessary and develop plot without concerning themselves with a need to be cool for cools sake. While Dogs and Pulp Fiction are unquestionable classics, Basterds pushes boundaries that he hasn’t explored before and with a maturity and artisan brush that makes it his best film to date.
Inglorious Basterds is set in World War II but it isn’t the war we know so well. While the places, the figures and events are similar, this is Quentin’s world and in it, things happen a little differently than the history books would lead to you believe.
The film centres on a menagerie of characters. Not only are the titular band of Nazi killers a large focus of the film but there is also other characters that lead into the final events of the film too. There is the escaped Jew Shoshanna, hell bent on revenge for the murder of her family. The Jew Hunter she escaped from – a balance of charm, menace and whimsy as only a Tarantino character could. We have the German sniper who is glorified by the Nazi machine but is more enamoured by a woman than the need to be a hero. The actress turned double agent working with the Basterds to bring down the Nazi regime and the British agent, going undercover to help bring down Hitler himself. Each and every character is given their time to shine and are fleshed out so well, you wish the film were longer just so you can spend more time with them. Their fates are equally important and what becomes of each throughout the course of the film will matter to the audience, whether they live or die.
It opens like a spaghetti western, with frames reminiscent of Sergeo Leoni or George Steven’s “Shane”. A family in a picturesque country farm is visited by an SS agent known as The Jew Hunter. The first chapter of the film is basically two men sitting around a table talking but the tension and the incredible screenplay makes it riveting. You can sense the danger in each word spoken and the risks being taken with each answered question. It seems like an odd choice to start the film on such a slow paced scene but it works well and sets up Shoshanna and her motivation for later actions that are more important to the film plot than anything the Basterds do.
We are then introduced to the Basterds and their exploits. The members of the team are so much fun and their back stories and attitudes are hilarious in a dark humour sort of way. The scenes of them killing Nazis are gleeful and brutal at the same time. While the violence is over the top in some parts, it feels satisfying. Nazis are the ultimate bad guys and a source of villainy that the world reviles so when you see the Basterds going to town on them, it feels just. Brad Pitt plays Aldo Raine almost to caricature but despite his quirkiness, he is a stalwart leader and a man to be feared by the German army. A character sure to become a cult favourite is Donny Donowitz – known to the Germans as the Bear Jew. He is brutal and relishes his revenge on the Nazis with a pay off for his character at the end of the film is extremely satisfying.
It would take far too long to mention all the characters in this film and the actors that deliver performances that make the film pleasurable to watch. Each of the actors seems to love their characters and put in convincing portrayals that have the audience loving every second of screen time. The only exception, perhaps, is Mike Myers. He plays a British officer and is the weakest of all the characters in the film. His facial expressions and line delivery borders on Austin Powers, at times, and are overacted for the most part. His section of the film was somewhat tedious, although his co-stars in those scenes were great.
You have to be very careful when reviewing this film not to give too much away of the plot. It would be easy to rattle off a list of plot points and scenes that were particularly memorable but to do so would rob future audiences of the experience of seeing it unfold. It is easier to assure you that early scenes pay off later and that the ride there will keep you guessing at what’s coming next.
For me, this is one of the most enjoyable Tarantino films I have seen to date. That’s saying a lot, since I was one of those writers that idolised him when he first hit the scene and wrote countless terrible Tarantino-esque screenplays trying to imitate his style. I got a chuckle out of his choice of yellow subtitles knowing what they were a tribute to, his musical choices, the direction and cinematography. Most of all, I was happy he didn’t cast himself in any of the roles, although I know he must have found it hard to resist the temptation.
I want a sequel to Basterds or a prequel. I want to go back into that world and spend more time there. I want a whole film dedicated to the Bear Jew but most of all, I can’t wait for this one to hit Blu-ray so I can watch it over and over.