If you’re a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s hip and generally longwinded diatribes, strap your helmet on — Inglorious Basterds is your call to arms (you’ll just have to learn how to enjoy hearing it in French, German and other European flavors). If you’re not a fan of his character’s pontifications — so what — there is enough action, violence and other nuanced insanity to make your head spin as if you’re on a mescaline trip.
But it’s not as good as his tour de force Pulp Fiction was. It is, however, damn close though.
Inglorious Basterds is, in some “glorious” fashion, a more diversified and mature work from the acclaimed director. To the past are his mob flicks. Tributes to insane Asian movies are so passé. This time around he takes his aim at World War II with heavy-handed cues from the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns from yore — i.e., a convoluted The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The “Good” is Brad Pitt as the leader of the Inglorious Basterds, Lt. Aldo Raine. He’s a hardnosed, southern, John Wayne-esque type of guy, with a constant constipated look. A nod goes off to Pitt for his “fun” characterization — he manages to keep it just under the line of flamboyance while still keeping a larger-than-life credence. I must say again, I’ve gotten more impressed with Pitt for all the quirky roles he’s undertaken and made work. Yet, for all the good he does (his stunningly bad attempt at being an Italian escort is tops), he is clearly outshined by the “Bad” of the film.
Christoph Waltz, is simply marvelous as Colonel Hans Landa, better known to French Jews as “The Jew Hunter”. From the first chapter in which we’re introduced to him (during which he compares hunting Jews to hunting rats), it is clear this character was going to be a treat. He is graceful in his matter-of-factness about the decimation of a race of people. He is evil and he knows it. He is frighteningly calculating. But, it’s the way that he revels in his job that is most spellbinding — in a must see rollercoaster accident sort of way.
As for the “Ugly” well I guess that moniker goes to Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) — but not for her looks, more so for her deep-seeded hatred. Early on in Inglorious Basterds she escapes from the cruel hands of Landa and later finds her and her cinema at the center of the maelstrom between the Axis and the Allies. Thanks to a schoolboy crush that Nazi war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) has on her, he manages to get his propaganda film to be shown at her corner theater; a propaganda film that, coincidentally, will be viewed by all in the Nazi hierarchy, including Hitler.
I won’t dare give out what transpires during this chapter or others, but what I will say is it is all generally fresh and very exciting. Several of the monologues get a bit long in nature and drone on a bit much, but they all still have that trademarked Tarantino roll to them. The setups for each of the chapters flow into each other well — the only thing that breaks them up, perhaps needlessly, is the calling cards announcing the new chapter themselves.
Aside from those minor pet peeves of mine, Inglorious Basterds is a fine film. I doubt a film on subject matter like this, told in this fashion could have been pulled off by a director other than Tarantino. Same goes for the writing. I would, however, love to learn the why behind the purposeful misspelling of the word bastard in the title. Perhaps there is a clue within the film itself which, of course, would warrant another viewing to see since I didn’t take notice of it the first time around . . .