Writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s first foray into war is a bloody, genre-bending experience that is kinetic and gripping at its best, and self-indulgent and sloppy at its worst.
Fans of the auteur should be satisfied, and film buffs should appreciate the references to German propaganda, director Leni Riefenstahl and post-WWII French cinema.
However, those opposed to Mr. Tarantino’s tendency towards talky, slow-burning scenes punctuated by sudden bursts of graphic violence and comic lunacy might want to stick with “Julie and Julia.”
“Inglourious Basterds,” like Mr. Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films, is a revenge tale; a revisionist take on history in which an elite, WWII fighting squad of Jewish-American soldiers is dropped into Nazi-occupied France to spread fear in the Nazi party through “… murder, torture, intimidation and terror,” as expressed by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt with a wicked southern drawl). Aldo and his squad want nothing more than to kill Nazis and take their scalps as trophies.
Oddly enough, aside from Mr. Pitt, the “basterds” – played by Eli Roth (director of horror flicks “Hostel” and “Cabin Fever”), B.J. Novak (of NBC’s “The Office”) and stone-faced German actor Til Schweiger – play second fiddle to others, including French actress Melanie Laurent.
As Shosanna Dreyfus, Ms. Laurent convincingly portrays a woman whose family was murdered by the infamous
“Jew Hunter,” S.S. Colonel Hans Landa (Cristoph Waltz in an Oscar-worthy
Some years later, Shosanna has successfully hidden her identity and now
runs a cinema in Paris.
When a German soldier, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), becomes smitten with her, the war hero uses his notoriety
to have none other than Propaganda
Minister Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) premiere his new film about Zoller’s war conquests at Shosanna’s
theater. Hitler himself is even scheduled
to make an appearance.
Mr. Tarantino’s exteriors are richer here than in his previous efforts, as he opens the film out into the French countryside, where a neighbor is hiding Shosanna and her family beneath the floor of his farmhouse.
A surprise inspection by Nazi soldiers leads to bloodshed, and Christopher Waltz, as Colonel Landa, holds us captivated with his meticulous, eccentric performance. Beneath his polite veneer lies a malice waiting to be unleashed. The scene grips us with the intensity of a great white’s jaws.
Later, however, in the basement of a Parisian bar, the director returns to his bread and butter.
A few of the “basterds” meet up with German starlet/French Resistance sympathizer Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), and the scene takes a sudden turn from drinking games to the director’s forte, a Mexican standoff and subsequent shootout.
A strong cameo from August Diehl (of the terrific holocaust film “The Counterfeiters”) as a German officer solidifies the sequence.
Quentin Tarantino’s stylized approach is evident throughout, from comic book scribbling to identifying key players, jump cuts, an eclectic soundtrack/score and even voice-overs by Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel.
Sometimes this hyper-stylization helps the film flourish and sometimes it detracts from the well-written dialogue and fine acting.
But any excuse to watch Quentin and his “Inglourious Basterds” stick it to the Nazis is fine by me.
Rated R for strong graphic
violence, language and brief sexuality. Runtime is 153 minutes.