The zenith of Tarantino’s career – and my favourite QT film to date.
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
2009| USA | Drama/War| 153 mins | 2.39:1 | English & German
M18 (passed clean) for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality
Cast: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender
Plot: In Nazi-occupied France during WWII, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as ‘The Basterds’ are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. The Basterds soon cross paths with a French-Jewish teenage girl who runs a movie theater in Paris which is targeted by the soldiers.
Awards: Won 1 Oscar – Best Supporting Actor. Nom. for 7 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing. Won Best Actor (Cannes).
Distributor: United International Pictures (Park Circus)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 14 Sep 2009)
Perhaps the most anticipated motion picture of the year apart from the upcoming James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar, Inglourious Basterds is the new film by Quentin Tarantino. His name alone guarantees theater after theater of filled seats. After all, he is the Oscar and Cannes Palme d’Or winning writer-director of Pulp Fiction (1994), the undisputed masterpiece of 1990s popular cinema.
That was only his second film. The first, Reservoir Dogs, released in 1992 in an explosive debut remains highly influential till this day. Between Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, he made two volumes of Kill Bill (2003, 2004) which established him as a rare filmmaker who could balance commercialism and auteurism in his works, and two other less well-known films in Jackie Brown (1997) and Death Proof (2007). Thus, his new WWII Nazi picture comes with high expectations, and Tarantino aces them effortlessly.
Inglourious Basterds stars Brad Pitt as the leader of a band of Nazi-loathing Jewish-Americans who spread fear throughout the Third Reich by brutally killing Hitler’s men. They collaborate with a double agent (played by Diane Kruger) on a plot to assassinate Hitler and his top guard in a small theater screening a pro-Nazi film in a high-key event. This is, however, only one side to the story.
“Ooh! That’s a bingo! Is that the way you say it?”
The other side documents a young woman (played by Melanie Laurent) who owns that above-mentioned cinema and has a plan of vengeance of her own after she survives a family massacre by the Nazis years ago. The link that connects the two narrative strands together is a ‘Jew-Hunter’ played by the immensely-talented Christoph Waltz (who won Best Actor at Cannes for this role) whose multilingual skills allow him to shine in the different language contexts during the film.
No genuine fan goes to see a Tarantino film for the acting, though it is generally solid. Instead, they look out for its artistic merits, the layers of dialogue, its soundtrack accompaniment, and the ‘what-the-hell?’ factor of it all. Inglourious Basterds, true to Tarantino fashion, features a brilliantly-crafted narrative which is heavy on dialogue filled with sarcasm, black humor, and referential discourse over cinema and popular culture of that era. There are trademark long takes of ‘roundtable talks’ which create a high level of suspense, often ending up in violent and bloody shootouts.
The art direction and costume design brings authenticity to the setting but the film is still a fictional WWII tale. This fictional aspect is further emphasized through the use of mostly Western music (in particular Ennio Morricone’s) which makes the film seems like an opera of various, unclassifiable styles. For the weak hearts, there are a few look-away moments including the carving of a man’s forehead with a sharp knife, the scalping of heads that reveal gross brain matter, and an unflinching exhibition of how it would look if you beat someone to a pulp using a bat. It would be sick to enjoy such violence, but Tarantino gleefully wants us to.
Inglourious Basterds offers 150 minutes of pure cinema and a decent share of narrative twists. Told in five chapters, it is engrossing, and at times mind-blowing. There is not a dull moment in this masterpiece of screenwriting and directing. The critics are right in saying that “this is Tarantino’s best since Pulp Fiction”. A stunning return to form, Inglourious Basterds is a powerful reminder of the unique talents Tarantino possess.