D/W: Quentin Tarantino. DP: Robert Richardson. Starring: Brad Pitt/Christoph Waltz/Diane Kruger/Mélanie Laurent/Daniel Bruhl/Michael Fassbender/Eli Roth/Til Schweiger/B.J. Novak/Gedeon Burkhard/Mike Myers/Julie Dreyfus/Martin Wuttke.
For almost the last twenty years, Tarantino has been able to cultivate an intense following of film fans, but also an impressive amount of respect within the modern cinema community. The sheer amount of ‘special thanks’ he receives on numerous projects is evidence of not only his influence, but his involvement in the direction of modern storytelling. Since Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), his sparse writing and directing credits reinforce his focus on projects and a specific vision he incorporates into his work. And his most recent work proves, without a doubt, his vision’s prowess in this industry.
Filmed entirely in Germany and France, there is not a frame of Inglorious Basterds that isn’t rich. Tarantino and Richardson, along with production designer David Wasco, give such attention to their use of color, detail, and texture. Making it difficult to not forget say a lost shoe or red dress as each new setting generates enough electricity to catapult the story. Which also allows long shots or speeches to be even more noticeable and frankly, entertaining.
Aiding in this entertainment is editor, Sally Menke, who not only adds texture and rhythm to Tarantino’s film, but also gives it a focus and seamlessness that allows the two hours and thirty-three minutes to fly by. Tarantino again enlists the use of chapters, to introduce segments of his story and break up the narrative flow. Despite the fact that this tactic continuously reminds the audience of the construct of the film, making everyone acutely aware of the filmmakers hand in his work, this segmentation actually allows this film’s subject matter to feel fresh.
And fresh is necessary as Inglorious Basterds returns to familiar film ground. Set in Nazi occupied France during World War II the film follows a group of American soldiers, all Jewish except their leader Lieutenant Aldo (Pitt), attempts to kill and scalp as many Nazis as possible. This vagabond group keeps the film centered more on the difficulties and craziness of survival in World War II than politics, military strategy or genocide. Of course, the group’s purpose culminates on one specific event, which forces the film to rework itself. And although all three of those themes are there, they thankfully take a backseat to a more character driven story.
But what does not take a backseat is violence. In classic Tarantino form, Inglorious Basterds gives the audience the shots it doesn’t want to see. And Tarantino’s ‘ew factor’ is in full form here with more than just guns a blazing. However, this violence is predominantly targeted at Nazis, the offensive group, which keeps the violence light, almost comical and revengeful. Not only does this go against genre, but also emphasizes the amount of violence that did go on in this period and the amounts of it that were purely excessive. And it is both the Germans and the Basterds who participate in this excess, with Pitt’s Aldo leading the way like a proper cowboy.
Pitt is delightfully audacious and crass, but thankfully isn’t the center of the story as his role, if given too much, would become hackneyed and tiresome. But Pitt is flanked by competent actors as the Basterds, with Kruger (Bridget van Hammersmark) finally hitting her stride in a film where she can use her native German. Yet, let’s be frank, playing a movie star isn’t all to challenging, but she provides a nice contrast to the sweet-faced French Laurent (Shosanna) whose American debut here is nothing short of memorable. Although no one outshines Waltz’s Colonel Hans Landa. Fluent in English, German, French and Italian, Waltz uses them all here and steals every scene he’s in as the sparkling yet devious head of security for the Third Reich.
And one must note the important and wonderful use of languages here. Not only does Tarantino use actors fluent in multiple languages, but forces his audience to deal with and subsequently enjoy hearing the German and French languages, which adds a certain authenticity to his convoluted construct of a war film. Also, his use of modern music at key scenes allows this WWII setting to be seen and re-invented using contemporary concepts without diminishing it’s historical placement.
But history is not what is important in Inglorious Basterds. Rather it is an exploration of that which cannot be re-written, but only re-told in a version of history that satisfies curiosity and a thirst for, well, revenge. So go out and get your taste. You will not regret it.