August 30, 2009 by Zack
It doesn’t take much knowledge on world history to know what really happened in WWII, regarding Adolf Hitler. It’s pretty obvious Quentin Tarantino is trying to give a history lesson with his new film, “Inglourious Basterds”–but he is taking on quite a task: revisionist history for the purpose of Hitler getting his, the way he should have gone out. If you’ve seen “Der Untergang” (“Downfall”), you get a real glimpse of what actually happened to Hitler in his final days (apparently he wasn’t too happy with things the Cubs did in their off season, either). But I won’t compare those two movies, because they’re different films and different forms of fiction. “Inglourious Basterds” is, at its heart, an action/adventure film with a wink and a smile.
If you’ve seen one Tarantino film, you’ve seen them all, in terms of his film style. This film is broken into 5 chapters, and each serves almost as its own separate short film, but it all comes together in the end. This film isn’t broken up in time the way “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservior Dogs” is but the narrative style follows the same pattern. And like all Tarantino films, the characters talk a lot. For me, it’s refreshing to see such energetic and delicious dialog being bounced back and forth, even if the scene is fifteen minutes long–you never feel it in a Tarantino film.
The plot itself follows more than the title suggests: while it does go through the story of the Inglourious Basterds (headed by Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt who you can see has a lot of fun with this role), it also follows a survivor of a Jew Hunter Nazi colonel (played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz, who will certainly be looking at an Oscar nod next season). She escapes a farmhouse that housed her family once they are “snuffed out” by Colonel Landa, but stays in France and runs a cinema that has to play German films. But it’s one German film in particular that the film eventually revolves around. A pesky German private who attempts to woo this girl, named Shosanna (who has changed her name to Emmanuelle since escaping the farmhouse), had a film made about him when he was a sniper in a bird’s nest and killed hundreds of enemies. His filmmaker? Joseph Goebbels. It also just so happens that this film will be viewed by Adolf Hitler himself.
A plan is hatched by the Basterds to sabotage this film festival, but Shosanna has plans of her own for revenge, and the entire film of “Inglourious Basterds” eventually reveals itself to be, in a sense, a film about revenge and needless violence that serves no purpose but selfish ones. Tarantino takes a very serious situation such as the German Occupation and only lightly touches on the Holocaust, smartly; and, he turns this into somewhat of a charming adventure story. The characters are very well drawn out, and charismatic. Even the scenes of long dialog has context of tension, and build up of suspense. While they may be meandering through meaningless chattering, it eventually culminates in some kind of a shootout or explosive pay off.
The film does offer a few twists in its plot that are interesting, but there were some pay offs I was waiting for that didn’t happen. It wasn’t enough for me to enjoy the film any less, and overall this is Tarantino’s best work since “Pulp Fiction”. The climactic ending is more than worth the price of admission, and the events leading up to it are fun and engaging. There are a few weak performances (sorry, Eli Roth) but for the most part the acting is superb. Pitt offers some laughs, and Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent (who plays Shosanna) literally steal scenes.
But the film isn’t all fun and games, and some of the seriousness of what was going on at this time is given its due. The film’s themes of revenge being pointless, to me, are even more effective than in Spielberg’s sprawling but sputtering “Munich”. It clocks in at over two and a half hours, but if you’re a Tarantino fan, or a film fan in general, you will not feel the running time length.
It’s a shame that some of the better movies this summer have come at the end of it, but that’s why we have August I guess. I don’t see the point of August otherwise.