For Quentin Tarantino, the world of film is a boiling pot full of mixed ingredients. Tarantino’s style is unlike any other despite that his movies are comprised of homages, references, and winks. Many have tried to make Tarantinoish films, but no one manages to rival Tarantino when it comes to pop-culture referencing. Even if you consider Tarantino a derivative artist, there’s no denying his ingenuity on screen, the main reason why I’ve always been a big fan of his work. Inglourious Basterds may not be the funniest of Tarantino’s filmography but it’s a great declaration to his filmmaking skills and one of his best efforts.
Unlike any of Tarantino’s movies before, Basterds is based on reality… sort of. Set in Nazi-occupied France, Tarantino plays his version of World War II where a guerilla group of American-Jews take revenge upon the Germans, deeming themselves the “Inglourious Basterds.” Their leader Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), a Tennessee man with a thick Southern accent, commands the Basterds with brashness and orders them to bring him 100 Nazi scalps. Together, the team successfully attacks German forces and causes distress to even Hitler himself.
The main central plot of Inglourious Basterds though focuses on other characters as well. In the opening scene, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a Nazi commander known as the “Jew hunter,” enters a dairy farm where he pushes the farmer (Denis Menochet) into confessing that he is hiding a Jewish family. Only Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) escapes the massacre. Four years later, she quietly owns a movie theater in Paris under a new alias but after a Nazi war hero (Daniel Bruhl) falls in love with her, the Third Reich commissions a propaganda movie helmed by Joseph Goebbels to premiere at her cinema, attended by top German officials and with security under none other than Hans Landa. Terrified that her identity may be uncovered, Shosanna plans to burn her theater down to kill the Nazi theatergoers. Inadvertently, the Basterds plan to also take down the Germans while working with English Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) and agent Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger).
For the recipe of Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino mixes countless war films, numerous B-movies, and even a bit of Western, as Hans’ big introduction rings comparisons to The Searchers, while using the structure of Pulp Fiction with its nonlinear course. Inglourious Basterds is a riff at the John Wayne style combat picture (with Brad Pitt in the Wayne role) but also operates at something more. Much like Full Metal Jacket, Inglourious Basterds reveals the irony of the war style picture. It’s not about the Holocaust or World War II, it’s about the thrill of violence, the unsustainable pleasure we get from see Nazis meeting their doom from getting smashed by a baseball bat to shot down. Ben Walters of Film Quarterly summed up Basterds well when he said Tarantino “explicitly invites us to take a break from historical reality.” Inglourious Basterds isn’t trying to be a history lecture, it’s meant to be a great piece of entertainment, one that’s both thrilling and thought-provoking.
And where Basterds succeeds, like with every Tarantino movie, is the impeccable acting. Pitt has rarely been better in his role as Raine, playing the character with humor and grace. Fassbender is also phenomenal as Hicox; though he appears only briefly, Fassbender marks one of the picture’s finest moments. The best acting though comes Waltz, whose deranged Nazi is a bizarre and despicable yet drawing character, the most memorable in Tarantino’s catalog since Jules in Pulp Fiction. Waltz carves through the character with such power and punch that he radiates in every scene he’s in.
It may not be for all tastes, but Inglourious Basterds is delectable entertainment that’s among the sharpest and quickest of Tarantino’s filmography, a sublime ode to the director’s talent.