Inglourious Basterds directed by Quentin Tarantino (Universal Pictures, Weinstein Company, A Band Apart, R, 153 minutes)
Starring Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Mélanie Laurent, and Christoph Waltz.
Set in France during World War II, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds tells the story of two separately planned attempts to assassinate the leaders of the Nazi party.
In one storyline, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) – nicknamed “The Jew Hunter” for his ability to locate Jews in hiding – interrogates a dairy farmer learning that he is harboring a Jewish family under the floorboards. While Landa’s men shoot through the floor, teenage daughter Shosanna Dreyfus escapes the carnage.
Three years later, Shosanna hides in plain sight as a cinema owner in Paris under the identity, Emmanuelle Mimieux. While changing the marquee, she meets Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), a decorated German sniper and star in an upcoming German propaganda film. Smitten, Zoller convinces Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) to move the premier of the film to Shosanna’s cinema.
Understanding that this premiere will provide an occasion for all of Germany’s high ranking officers to be in the same room, Shosanna realizes that she has an opportunity for revenge.
In the second storyline, 1st Special Service Force First Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) assembles a team of Jewish-American servicemen to go undercover in France with the sole mission of inflicting terror on the Nazis.
A sadistic killer, Raine insists that his soldiers kill Nazis and scalp them as proof. In fact, he requires each soldier to personally give him 100 scalps. Through the information provided from a double agent, the Allied Forces learn that the Nazi leaders will all attend the premier of a propaganda film in Paris. With the help of the informant, Raine and some of his men gain entry to the event with the sole intention of wreaking havoc. Of course, none of this actually happened in real life. But Inglourious Basterds is a film that ponders the “what-if”.
In the Midst of Bloody Carnage, We See Compelling Characters
At its core, Inglourious Basterds is about the characters.
Waltz, playing Colonel Landa, is brilliant and deserving of every award bestowed on him for the performance. Landa is complex; ruthless on one hand, he possesses a sinister intelligence with no loyalties on the other. In every scene, he hovers over the rest of the characters as if he knows the whole plot and is only playfully toying with the other characters.
Pitt, playing Lieutenant Raine, represents the opposite of Landa. His sense of retribution trumps all other human emotions. For Raine, if a person wears the Nazi uniform, he deserves death and/or public humiliation. Although the Allied Forces are the film’s protagonists, their actions are more violent and less forgiving.
If Everyone Dies, Who Is the Protagonist?
Ultimately, the bloodshed in the film portrays the senselessness of war on both sides. As with every Tarantino film, everyone dies. But in this instance, death shows us how retribution can be, in itself, deadly. The Nazis killed millions of Jews and Inglourious Basterds allows us to watch them suffer for their crimes once more.
Yet, our desire for retribution can create psychopaths no different than the Nazis. Inglourious Basterds reminds us to be careful what we wish for.
The film represents another signpost in the Quentin Tarantino canon. Stylistically, it is everything one comes to expect from Tarantino films. However, the acting of Christoph Waltz and the juxtaposition of Nazis and retributive psychopaths makes for an excellent movie.
Verdict: 4 of 5