Quentin Tarantino, 2009
Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christopher Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Krueger, Daniel Bruehl, Til Schweiger
Rewriting history smacks of hubris, no matter how great of a writer or filmmaker you are (or may think you are). I was stunned, appalled and a little amazed the first time I saw Inglourious Basterds in the theater. It was a completely different film than what I expected and I'm still not really sure of my opinion on it. I am sure, however, that I was very entertained -- thanks largely to Christopher Waltz, who had a solidly deserved win for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. Waltz's phenomenal Colonel Hans Landa (aka "The Jew Hunter") is reason enough to see the film.
Basterds relates two parallel plots against the Third Reich: both have the ultimate goal of destroying the majority of the Reich's political leadership. The first story is about Shosanna, a young French-Jewish woman who escapes her family's wholesale slaughter, flees to Paris, and manages her own film theater. Through a few chance encounters, she meets newly famous Private Zoller, a war hero and star of Goebbels first film. Zoller develops a crush on the disdainful Shosanna or Emmanuelle, as she is now known, and convinces Goebbels to move the premier of "Nation's Pride" -- a film about his exploits -- to her theater. A dismayed Shosanna immediately plots their downfall via the theater's large collection of highly flammable film reels. The second story is about the Basterds, a group of Jewish American guerilla fighters, lead by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). Dropped in the middle of occupied France, the group's sole objective is to torture, kill and scalp Nazis. They are involved in a mission to assassinate Nazi leadership with the help of a German actress and double agent, which will lead them right to Shoshanna's theater...
In any Tarantino review, more so than most directors, it seems necessary to declare one's stance as pro or anti-Tarantino. I would probably have to consider myself pro-Tarantino, which I think is mostly a generational thing. Though he's not a particularly ground-breaking director, I have been entertained by most of his films and enjoy his wholesale pilfering and plundering of classic and obscure cinema. The amount of filmic references in Basterds alone is staggering, not even counting the fact that this film is technically, though not in actuality, a remake. Enzo Castellari's 1978 film Inglorious Bastards is a war exploitation film about a group of American soldiers in France fighting against the Germans, but the similarities end there. And who expected that Hugo Stiglitz reference?
Ultimately, I think Basterds is an entertaining, if very flawed film that is difficult to categorize. Despite its high gross in the theater, I imagine it is challenging for the typical American film-going audience, though derivative for art-house and foreign film lovers. It is not really an action film or a war film. Most of the action and violence is subdued, disregarding a few key scenes, and is implied rather than shown. It is also a very dialogue heavy film, cutting back and forth between English, French, and German with multiple characters switching languages with relative ease. All of the actors are well-suited in their multiple languages and even when accents occur, Tarantino makes use of this in his script.
The casting is excellent and as I said earlier, Christopher Waltz is amazing. He really richly deserved that Academy Award and I hope this opportunity makes his earlier films more popular and gains him more roles in the future. He was charming, sadistic, manipulative, and funny in a role that would be basically unplayable for many other actors. Most of the side characters were also enjoyable and my chief complaint is that we saw too little of them, particularly Til Schweiger's Hugh Stiglitz and Michael Fassbender's Archie Wilcox had way too little running time. Overall, as complaints go, I think a lot of other reviews agree that the characters are under developed and under used. There is simply not enough time for everything in this film.
I'm reviewing the two disc special edition, which was also released on Blu-ray. The second disc is unnecessary, but I always have a problem with Tarantino's special features. Compared to his friend, Robert Rodriguez, who puts out amazing special features for his films, Tarantino's got nothing. There is the entirety of "Nation's Pride" (directed by Eli Roth -- why), a few trailers, a round-table discussion, etc. It doesn't really have anything you would hope to see, like more extensive interviews, behind the scenes, bloopers, etc.