By Keith Gibson
When was the last time a film snuck up out of nowhere and surprised you with greatness? This happened to me a few nights ago, when I had the pleasure of watching “Inglourious Basterds.”
Quentin Tarantino’s latest sets up an alternate history of World War II, in which a group of Jewish soldiers known as “The Basterds” and a woman bent on revenge plot to take down the leaders of The Third Reich.
Standing in their way are ever-vigilant Nazi soldiers, drinking games, and an inability to speak any language but English. As is to be expected with a Tarantino film, there are plenty of laughs, a high body count, and 30-minute scenes that take place at a single table. Surprisingly, even the last one was more than enjoyable.
Filled with dark humor, taut suspense and fraught with tension, the opening chapter sets the tone for the rest of the film. It is majestic in its intensity. Christopher Waltz’s turn as Hans Landa, an infamous Nazi known throughout France as “The Jew Hunter,” is simply spectacular.
Always smiling from ear-to-ear, Landa is, somehow, undeniably more menacing than any stone-faced German soldier, and unsettlingly intelligent to boot. It is easy to see why Waltz received the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes.
Although the rest of the film does not match the level of the opening scene, it is great nonetheless. Brad Pitt as “Aldo the Apache,” Eli Roth as “The Bear Jew” and Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz are all hilarious and unforgettable. I would take great pleasure in describing each and every actor and his or her respective character, but I do not have nearly enough time to do all of them justice, so I will just say that the entire cast does a great job, which is remarkable for a film with so many characters.
Ennio Morricone’s score is always wonderful and fitting, never seeking to distract, always facilitating the action on-screen.
Cinephiles will immediately pick up on the self-reflexive (cheers Nazo) nature of the film. For you non-film buffs, that’s just another way of saying “self-referential.”
There are references to classic films (who thought King Kong would make an appearance here?), much of the film takes place inside of a cinema where people are watching a film, there are pokes and prods at the actors in the film (a few shots at Pitt’s unintelligible accents in prior films), and countless others to behold.
The problems with the film – and there are more than a few – come in the narrative. There is not enough character payoff for my taste. Plots are set up that never materialize. Alas, if I were to disclose the rest of problems at this point in the review, I would spoil the film for most of you. Instead, I will disclose them following the end of this review, in a clearly identified SPOILER section. Do not read past those big, ominous letters unless you’ve already seen the film or if you just don’t give a damn.
In conclusion, my expectations were not high for this film, so you know I’m not just a QT fanboy blowing smoke when I say it truly is one of his best works. “I think this is my masterpiece,” one of the characters remarks in the last act of the film.
Tarantino is undoubtedly expressing his own opinion of the film through the character. I disagree with him. However, if it weren’t for “Pulp Fiction,” it damn well would be his masterpiece – probably.
“Inglourious Basterds” opens Aug. 21.
Why is it that “The Bear Jew” and the other faux-Italian filmmaker (the character’s name eludes me) do not even acknowledge, let alone flinch at, the sight of a swift, enormous fire blazing through the theater? Why is there no scene in which Shosanna is taken aback by the news that the Fuhrer himself will be attending the premiere? This undoubtedly would have increased not only her resolve to carry out her plot but also her joy in doing so. This is of course, assuming that she knew that the Fuhrer was at the premiere – a friend of mine pointed out she might have been unaware of his presence, but I do not see how that is at all reasonable or possible. Again, assuming she knew the Fuhrer was there, sitting on the second floor balcony, how did she plan to kill him, for he would not be killed by the fire that would consume the rest of the Nazi High Command?
Did she plan to kill him at all? One must believe, based upon her hatred for all things Nazi, that nothing would have given her more pleasure. Nothing, that is, except for killing Frans Landa. Why is it that her character did not scheme to kill him at all? This man murdered her entire family right before her eyes and the only time she acknowledges his presence following that incident is during the scene at the dining room table.
These are the main problems I had with the film. There are other problems – like a lack of an introduction or explanation as to why and how an American Tennessean end up leading a group of specially selected Jews to kill Nazis – but they did not irk me like the aforementioned. It remains to be seen whether the resolutions to the problems were left on the editing room floor or never written in the first place. I look forward to finding out.