Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”)
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”)
As Brad Pitt’s character Lt. Aldo Raine retracts his bloody knife after carving a swastika into an enemy’s forehead at the end of “Inglourious Basterds” (misspelling intended), he admires his artistic work and makes a confident statement: “I think this just might be my masterpiece.”
If that’s any indication of what filmmaker Quentin Tarantino thinks about his new highly stylized World War II flick, he’s sorely mistaken. That doesn’t mean, however, that the director of such films as “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill” hasn’t delivered audiences a very entertaining spectacle. Along with Tarantino’s unique directorial approach and take on German history, an undoubtedly remarkable performance by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz makes “Inglourious Basterds” a summer blockbuster must-see.
In the film, Lt. Raine (Pitt) leads a bloodlusting team of Jewish soldiers known as the Basterds through France killing Nazis and collecting their scalps. Tarantino settles on Lt. Raine to be the spokesperson for his “bushwhacking guerilla army” and therefore doesn’t bother much with the stories of the other members of the renegade militia. We do learn a bit about Eli Roth’s character Sgt. Donny Donowitz (AKA the Bear Jew), whose weapon of choice for killing members of the Third Reich is a baseball bat, and the sadistic streak of Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger). Other than that, the rest of the Basterds are lost in the gunfire.
Those who think “Inglourious Basterds” is really all about “killin’ Nazis” will be disappointed. This isn’t a story like “Kill Bill” where the Bride is checking off victims from her hit list one by one. It’s interesting that Tarantino went with the title “Inglourious Basterds” in the first place. One of the many working titles, “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France,” which is used as a chapter title instead, fits the synopsis much better since the Basterds themselves are only a fraction of the action.
The rest of the film follows Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a young Jewish movie theater owner who four years prior escaped a massacre involving her entire family. Back to his familiar theme of revenge, Tarantino sets Shosanna on that exact path when she finds out her theater has been chosen to host the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film. With the screening being attended by the most high-ranking Third Reich officers, Shosanna see an opportunity to get her revenge and ultimately end the war in one night.
But with an always-suspicious Col. Hans Landa (Waltz), who is known as “the Jew Hunter,” watching everyone’s every move, pulling off the murders of hundreds of German soldiers might be a bit more difficult than first anticipated. As Landa, Waltz gives us one of the best overall performances of the year; one brimming with tension-building dialogue and just enough humor to keep him from becoming as terrifying as someone like Ralph Fiennes’s Amon Goeth in “Schindler’s List.” Alone, Waltz is worth the price of admission ten times over.
As a writer and director, Tarantino is still one of the most creative voices working today, but he allows “Basterds” to get away from him in a few of his chapters. Another story involving actress Diane Kruger (“Troy”) as Bridget von Hammersmark, a German movie star turned spy, seemed like an unnecessary addition to the plot.
Nevertheless, Tarantino has fashioned some flat-out great scenes with some good ones. It all adds up to a manic faux-history lesson only someone like he could conjure up.