Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger
Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Maybe it's because Quentin Tarantino is such an iconoclast, but he seems to be a polarizing figure for movie fans. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of middle ground--you either love his films or you hate them. Forced to choose a side, I side with the lovers. And I'll gladly hoist up this movie as evidence to support my stance. Is there more sizzle than steak? Maybe, if you went into theaters or sat down in your living room with preconceptions about Inglourious Basterds. When it comes to Tarantino, I find it best to watch his films with a mind like a blank slate. Unlike many, I loved Deathproof, and attribute my appreciation for the movie because I didn't instantly hold it up against its Grindhouse counterpart, Planet Terror.
The setup for this one is easy. It's revisionist history with razor sharp teeth. In Nazi-occupied France, a Tennessee moonshiner turned commando, Lieutenant Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt), forms a group of Jewish-American soldiers to go behind enemy lines to demoralize the German army by killing soldiers in the cruelest manner. And those they don't kill, they send back with scars both emotional and literal. At the same time, a young Jewish woman running a cinema in France discovers she's going to host the premiere for the latest piece of Nazi propaganda, and decides to use it as a means to extract revenge on her oppressors.
On top of that is the award-winning performance by Christoph Waltz as "the Jew Hunter," Colonel Hans Landa . That guy came out of nowhere to steal the whole movie right out from under Brad Pitt's heels. Well, truth be told, Brad Pitt is not quite the marquee player in this movie as he is put out to be, as--just like any Tarantino film--there is more than one story arc playing out. Pitt's performance is surprisingly diminished among the din of the other characters. A welcome surprise as the cast seemed very strong with a equal caliber script.
The Basterds themselves, however, are more like specters in the background aside from a handful. I recall some critics saying they were little more than set pieces, but that's not really fair because there were--I would say--two Basterds (Donnie and Hugo Stiglitz) that had rather substantial roles in the film. Out of a gang of eight or more though, I can see the want for more exploration into all of the Basterds. Mind you, I join the chorus of those who could have done without Eli Roth in the cast. That guy stood out like a sore thumb, and I just didn't buy him as "The BearJew" for a second.
The film is laid out in chapters, each one introducing the characters to the audience, as well as progressing the main story in increments. Tarantino paces this out with mesmerizing dialogue and some viscerally charged scenes of violence. And as soon as you see Colonel Landa toy with a French farmer in the opening scene like a cat with a mouse, you get sucked in for the ride.
The movie is bloody, and filled with so much nostalgic fervor, you'd swear it was Lee Marvin's wet dream of a war movie. Love it, hate it, or just sit on the fence to try and figure out what to make of it. Whatever you do, just watch it. It might be about twenty minutes too long, but the time is well spent as far as I'm concerned. A masterpiece for Tarantino? I don't think so, but he ought to be very proud of it--it's about as close to making par with Pulp Fiction as he has come so far.