1941. Once upon a time… in Nazi-occupied France (these words open the movie), an S.S. Colonel nicknamed the Jew Hunter, Hans Landa continues his duties, and now it’s in the hands of American Lt. Aldo “The Apache” Raine and his hand-picked group of Jewish-American soldiers known as “The Basterds” to spread fear through the Third Reich by viciously killing Nazis.
That’s all I’m going to say about the plot summary to Quentin Tarantino’s long-awaited new movie, Inglourious Basterds, though there is much, much more to this. If you know Tarantino films, then you know there’s a certain over-the-top pulp sensibility to all of his previous works, and Inglourious Basterds is no exception to it, perfectly fitting in with the same sensibilities of his more contemporary pieces. While I don’t think this is as effective as Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction it’s still a mighty entertaining film. Now of course, there is a previous movie called Inglorious Bastards, and the only things this shares with this is it’s bastardized title and it’s rollicking sensibility… don’t come into this expecting to see an accurate World War II adventure, but do expect something with Tarantino’s hallmarks, tight characterization, well-crafted dialogue, and a great attention to detail in building his own mythology… you’ll get that in spades.
I have only two things that I would’ve liked to have seen in this movie… one would’ve been an additional chapter chronicling a little more of The Basterds exploits, though their inception and mission is laid out well, the movie does make a jump from 1941 to 1944 and maybe another scene would’ve been good to see, as The Basterds aren’t as prevalent in this as the title might have you think, and an additional scene would’ve added more to that. The other thing I think I would’ve done would’ve been to take out an additional “insurance policy” of sorts with this, in the fact that the film isn’t any sort of real reflection of the events of World War II. What I would’ve done at the start might’ve been to sort of stick it in the face of some of the more historical movies that go to pains to tell you that they’re based on true events, and thus I would’ve started this with a card that says the following- “What you are about to see is not true, and is in fact a work of… pulp fiction.” Yeah, it would be self-referential, but it would certainly be an upfront obvious counter to some of the criticisms that this is receiving in that Tarantino does re-write history. For the Tarantino fan, there’s enough there to cover that in throughout the movie, but for the uninitiated, this would’ve been your counter.
Still, for the fans, there’s much fun to be had… Tarantino, of course is always referential to other movies, and with Inglourious Basterds there’s a lot here as well, from the opening chapter which heavily references Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A time In The West, to it’s second chapter which references Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen to discussions later on of Leni Reifenstahl’s films. He also continues his terrific work with music for the film, though instead of using pop classics, here he uses a lot of score music from other movies and it’s all real effective. And of course there’s some stuff that’s just pure Grindhouse, like referring to a later recruit to The Basterds, Hugo Stiglitz, with his own Jack Hill-esque title card that basically tells you this incidental character would be cool enough to carry his own movie.
On top of that, this is just extremely well cast… of course the big deal is that uber-star Brad Pitt leads this ensemble, and make no mistake, it’s very much an ensemble piece, and Pitt is great as Aldo Raine… but the real meat of this is carried out with characters who aren’t part of The Basterds and who aren’t really well known to most viewers (myself for instance), actress Melanie Laurent who plays an escaped Jew named Shosanna Dreyfus now living in france under the name of theatre owner Emmanuelle Mimieux, Daniel Bruhl as German war hero Fredrick Zoller and most effectively Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, who personally I think is good enough here to get an Oscar nomination, but that’s me. With The Basterds though, viewers will recognize The Office’s B.J. Novak, and Tarantino’s fellow director Eli Roth. Veteran character actor Til Schweiger plays the above-mentioned Hugo Stiglitz and it’s probably his coolest moments ever on film. And doing voiceover, you’ve got Samuel L. Jackson and a brief scene using Harvey Keitel.
Like I said above, I think this is highly entertaining, and though not necessarily in the same league as some of Tarantino’s previous films, that’s no insult as I tend to think even Tarantino’s lesser works are way more fun than a lot of movies already out there. Inglourious Basterds was the third movie I was most looking forward to this year (the other two being Watchmen and Star Trek) and it’s just a hell of a good time at the theatre and one of those movies that I’m going to enjoy again and again once it’s released for home. Highly, highly recommended…