Directed by Quentin Taratino
Opens Friday, August 21
* ½ out of *
Lately Quentin Tarantino’s films have completely disregarded modern times. Kill Bill, Grindhouse and now Inglourious Basterds have all found the director channelling forgotten film lore of yesteryear. Tarantino’s true drive seems to be honouring the auteurs who defined his formative experiences in film. In fact, the only original trademarks left in his oeuvre might be wordy dialogue and excessively stylish violence.
Structured like a succession of novellas, Inglourious Basterds tells the tale of two simultaneous attempts to end Nazi dominance in Western Europe. Four years after the murder of her family at the hands of the “Jew Hunter” Col. Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz), Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) plots revenge by luring Nazi officers (including the Fuehrer himself) to her cinema for the premiere of a Goebbels propaganda biopic, where she intends to kill them. Elsewhere in France, a group of Jewish-American soldiers (“The Basterds”) led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) hear about the premiere and plan to detonate the theater themselves.
Many of the film’s promotional trailers have focused on the death of the German soldiers and the film is already being called a Nazi slaughterfest. And, yes, Inglourious Basterds might be the most sadistic work in Tarantino’s repertoire. But the film never pretends that it’s a realist representation of life. It has nothing to say about real life and it has even less to say about the Second World War. The film is pure escapism, played for laughs, and essentially light in every aspect. Even Hans Landa, the film’s primary villain, is a likeable character. Like Bill in Kill Bill, he may be a murderer, but he’s a proper, mannered and, most importantly, charming murderer.
Even if sometimes self-indulgent, it’s difficult to deny Tarantino’s screenwriting abilities. Inglourious Basterds has scenes filled with such grace and brave “WTF” moments that you can’t help but smile. One particular example is a tense, yet humorous, moment in which Hans keeps remarking on a glass of milk he’s drinking while interviewing a French farmer who is hiding Jews underneath his kitchen floor.
The entire ensemble cast is excellent, a feat considering their diversity. Unknown Stateside, Waltz and Laurent get more screen time than star Pitt and deliver the film’s strongest performances. In fact, it is Waltz’s performance that guides the film’s climax to its misanthrope finale. Laurent is more muted in a star-making performance, beautifully conveying her character’s wounded nature. Fans of Freaks & Geeks and The Office should look out for Samm Levine and B.J. Novak in supporting roles, and Mike Meyers finally atones for his one-note career outside of Saturday Night Live in an entertaining single-scene cameo.
All in all, Inglourious Basterds isn’t exactly a love letter to the Second World War epics Tarantino probably ate up as a kid. It’s more a low-key farce, filled with extravagance and tongue-in-cheek humor. If it were not terribly beneath him, Tarantino would probably be a prime candidate for a Date Movie-type spoof flick. Fortunately, unlike those filmmakers, Tarantino is at least humble enough to satirize genres that are deeply kin to him.