In France during World War 2, SS Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) is known as the “Jew Hunter” for his propensity for catching Jewish fugitives hiding from the Nazi party. Meanwhile, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) has been tasked with building a team of his “Basterds,” predominantly Jewish-American soldiers sent in to kill as many Nazis as possible. Finally, Jewish cinema owner Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) has caught the eye of war hero Private Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), whose exploits have been made into a film, Nation’s Pride, which Zoller aims to have premier at Shosanna’s theatre, only for her to hatch a plan to take out as many Nazi officers as possible.
There are a lot of films in this world that I really, really like. That’s kind of a prerequisite for writing a movie blog, really. Quite often I’ll see a film in the cinema and think “Yep, that was awesome enough that one day I’ll own that on DVD so I can watch it again, several times.” Days will pass and release dates will arrive, and I’ll head out and purchase said film, only for it to sit on a shelf awaiting for the case to be opened and another viewing to be experienced. Often a factor in preventing this re-watching is my partner who, it should be said, doesn’t quite like as many films as I do. I’m sometimes reluctant to show her films, because more than likely they wont be her cup of tea. I thought she might like Inglourious Basterds though, given her affinity for Django Unchained a few years ago, so this weekend I finally sat her down and showed her the film, and she absolutely loved it. You’ve no idea how happy this made me. She only looked at her phone a couple of times! That’s practically unheard of!
I can’t quite place my finger on what it is exactly that allows someone like my partner, someone normally averse to gory scenes and rampant subtitles, to appreciate this film in spite of an abundance of both those things, but it’s probably got something to do with just how bloody great this movie is. For starters there are some scenes that really burn their way into your brain.
Split up into chapters, it’s all but impossible to pick a favourite scene. The opening, with Landa investigating a French farmhouse rumoured to be harbouring Jewish fugitives, is one of my favourite opening scenes from a film, with its excellent use of ramping tension, effective camera-work and of course Waltz’s performance as the multi-lingual, charming yet threatening Landa. It’s a role that reportedly held up production as it was so difficult to cast, requiring someone to convincingly and effortlessly speak fluent English, French, German and Italian, be menacing, terrifying, forceful yet also somehow likeable, and Waltz was perhaps the most deserving recipient of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar since Joe Pesci. Also, just look at that pipe. It’s magnificent.
I’m also a big fan of the bar scene, in which German-speaking film-loving English soldier Lt. Archie Hiccox (Michael Fassbender) accompanies two of the Basterds to meet up with a spy, actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) only for things to go spectacularly awry when a squad of German soldiers are celebrating the birth of one of their number’s son. It’s another fantastic, tension-filled scene that always heads in the opposite direction you imagine. Also, it shows Tarantino’s willingness to not portray every Nazi soldier as an out-and-out evil bastard. This is a group of soldiers who have been given the night off to commemorate the day one of them has become a father. They’re drunk and having a fine old time, and it could be believed that, had some of that evening’s events not taken place, they would have had no issue even if they’d found out the real identity of their new drinking companions. Similarly, Bruhl’s Zoller is a man smitten with a girl. He tries to ask her out and it doesn’t go well, so he tries again. He is a young guy in love, he likes movies, and he’s generally a rounded, human character, not just some faceless grunt.
What really shines through, and being a movie fan I’ve got no issue with this, is Tarantino’s love of cinema as a whole. Not only does he have a character playing a fictional famous actress and another (Hiccox) being a big fan of films of the era, even to the point of having a conversation with Churchill (Rod Taylor) about German cinema, and of course the film-within-a-film (directed by Eli Roth, who also appears as The Bear Jew, one of the Basterds), but the entire final act takes place in a cinema, and Tarantino’s fascination with film-making, projection and the flammability of old film stock are all pivotal to the plot at hand.
If I have one problem with the film – other than Roth’s acting, which I’ve never found all that great, and I think he lessens the impact of the Bear Jew, someone who could have been truly iconic – it’s the final shot, with a character delivering the line “I think this just might be my masterpiece” directly to camera, seconds before “Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino” appears on the screen. It could be a coincidence, but it feels an awful lot like Tarantino is blowing his own trumpet in the least subtle way imaginable. It’s deserved though, this is a fantastic film, easily one of his best, and it’s been added to the Aisha-approved shelf in our lounge.
Choose Film 9/10