Director: Quentin Tarantino
“Inglorious Basterds is a wholly unnerving masterwork from director Quentin Tarantino. Unique, engaging, and outrageous, it fits within Tarantino’s oeuvre while standing out as quite possibly his greatest film. (912, Cooper Penner, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Now Tarantino seems to be one of those Marmite people, really dividing people. You either love him or you hate him – I’ve yet to meet somebody who is just indifferent to him. My dad is very much in the dislike camp while I am just the opposite – I love Tarantino and pretty much everything he has done. That isn’t to say that I fully agree with Cooper Penner. Yes it is unique, engaging and outrageous and yes it definitely fits his oeuvre. However I wouldn’t say that this is his greatest film. It is a move back towards the things that made his earlier work as memorable and interesting as it remains to this day. For me Pulp Fiction (1994) remains the standout Tarantino film.
I seem to have something of a road block in my mind when it comes to creating an alternate history during World War II. I read Philip K. Dick‘s The Man In High Castle (1962) and really struggled with it because I just couldn’t shut off. I kept saying to myself ‘Well that didn’t happen!’ and it became something of a mantra. I mention this because Inglorious Basterds is an alternate history surrounding the Nazis and I came to it with slight trepidation that I wouldn’t be able to accept this re-imagining. I’m glad to say that wasn’t the case. Somehow Tarantino managed to create a new outlook on World War II that was believable enough that I was able to enjoy the film without having the real history constantly intruding, trying to make its presence known.
“Hundreds of well controlled details […] really define the movie and make it a work of art that anyone will enjoy.” (912) The film is gloriously shot with the wealth of little details that is so indicative of Tarantino’s work. It’s a wonderfully rich film in all aspects. The music is, as always, a standout soundtrack with all numbers being hand-picked by Tarantino. The colors are vivid with red being extremely dominant for obvious reasons what with it being the color of the Nazi party. There is something extremely rich about the Nazi uniforms, and an elite air to those of the SS. And despite the association with the atrocities carried out by men wearing those uniforms there is something attractive about them.
Inglorious Basterds is very much a multilingual film with a number of the cast speaking fluently in at least two languages. Most commonly these languages are French and German, the two prominent languages of the time and area. Michael Fassbender switches effortlessly between a very British accent and his German cover story while on operation. Indeed it isn’t his speech that ultimately blows his cover but rather his gestures. While a number of the cast switch between languages in the blink of an eye the stand out here is, as Penner says “[…] a truly genius, multilingual performance by Christoph Waltz.” (912) It really was an incredible performance that rightly earned him his first Oscar. Waltz clearly does his best work with Tarantino as both his Oscars have been the result of his collaboration with the director, firstly in Inglorious Basterds and then most recently in Django Unchained (2012). He is a charismatic character even when he is carrying out the massacre of a Jewish family in hiding. There was something magnetic about him, making him almost likable, which can at times lead to uncomfortable viewing.
“Inglorious Basterds, however is not just a never-ending gore-fest; it has a relatively slow buildup, which just makes those scenes full of intense brutality that much more potent.” (912) I found it much less violent and bloody then some of Tarantino’s previous work which I found surprising given the era the film is situated in. There is a much slower pace to it than his other films which in some ways I found refreshing. The violence that is portrayed is brutal but honestly would you expect anything else from Tarantino? The most uncomfortable moment for me is the excruciating scene where Brad Pitt‘s Aldo Raine carves a swastika into Waltz’s forehead. I had an entire bodily reaction to it with everything tensing up. Yes Raine has been doing it throughout the film – it became something of his signature – but this is the first time you actually saw the entire process. Pitt was his usual charming self as Nazi hunter and leader of the Basterds, Aldo Raine.
I see Inglorious Basterds as a return to what made Tarantino’s early work great. But then like I said from the start I’m a Tarantino fan.