Quentin Tarantino copped a lot of shit for this most recent latest big-screen effort. It was widely panned at Cannes, and the big-name critics at most of the major UK newspapers gave it a rousing thumbs-down. Well, I'd like to let all these highly-paid professionals know that they are completely and utterly wrong.
First, let's clear something up. Inglourious Basterds is not a remake of 1978's The Inglorious Bastards – but I guess, in a way, you could say that it's a "remake" of the second world war. The truth is that Tarantino simply liked the title so much that he bought it, and then wrote his own story to go with it. And messed around with the spelling a bit, too. Why? Who knows? Tarantino likes to retain a certain air of mystery. So now that's out of the way, let's get to the film itself. It begins with the words "Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France..." – which means don't expect QT to stick all that closely to the history books. In the opening scenes we're introduced to SS Colonel Hans "The Jew Hunter" Landa (Waltz), probably the smoothest and most charming Nazi to ever appear on screen. He's grilling a French dairy farmer whom he suspects of harbouring Jews, and in this chapter's climax (for once again, QT has divided a film into chapters) he guns down the Jewish family hiding beeneath the floorboards of the farmhouse – all except for daughter Shosanna (Laurent), who somehow gets away.
Then we meet the Basterds of the title. A troop of Jewish-American soldiers, we're introduced to them Dirty Dozen-style as leader Aldo Raine (Pitt) outlines their mission: to kill, and scalp, 100 Nazis each. They ambush German platoons, torturing and killing all but one. They always leave one alive to spread the word and build the myth of the Basterds. The worst of the bunch is Sgt Donny Donowitz (Roth), who likes to cave in Nazi skulls with his trusty baseball bat. I guess you could call them terrorists, for their role is to spread terror throughout the German army – thereby destabilising the Third Reich.
There are a few more chapters, and we meet a few more important characters along the way: Fredrick Zoller (Bruhl), a young film-loving German soldier who has found himself a hero and the star of his own movie; Joseph Goebbels (Groth), the Minister of Propaganda; Lt Archie Hickox (Fassbender), who's cooking up a plot to take out the Germans' top brass; and we again meet Shosanna, now living in Paris, running a cinema and calling herself Emmanuelle. And planning her revenge. Ultimately, all the disparate threads come together in an explosive climax at a film premiere in Paris.
Inglourious Basterds has all the usual Tarantino trademarks: lengthy stretches of ultra-sharp dialogue; a crackingly good soundtrack puled together by QT himself (and who would have thought they'd ever hear David Bowie and Ennio Morricone on the same film?); a bum-numbing running time; and stellar performances from an ensemble cast. Pitt, of course, is the biggest name here, and he gets top billing. And his performance is perfectly adequate – he is, after all, a decent enough actor. But two European members rise head and shoulders above all the others, and must be singled out for special mention. First Waltz as the gloriously evil Colonel Landa. He won the best actor prize at Cannes, and when you see his performance, you'll understand why. The film is his, all the way. He steals every scene he's in, and to my mind he's this film's lead. And honourable mention must go to Laurent, as Shosanna/Emmanuelle. It's such an assured performance, full of anger and pain. Both these actors warrant Oscar nods.But ultimately, it's Tarantino's film. Some are calling it his "masterpiece". It's not – that title still belongs to Pulp Fiction, and it always will. But Inglourious Basterds is definitely not the one-star stinker many critics have made it out to be. You can rest assured, as you fork over the money for that cinema ticket and take your seat, waiting for the lights to go down and the fantasy world to unfold on the screen, that QT's latest will not disappoiint. Tarantino has been quoted as saying that this is not the second world war film of your Dad's generation. And he's right. It's the second world war film of ours. And we wouldn't want it any other way.
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