Director: Quentin Tarantino Release Date: 7 December Any movie that begins with the words “Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France” earns my instant respect. It speaks volumes for writer/director Quentin Tarantino. He’s a man unafraid to laugh at even the most horrifying of circumstances. Think of the hilarious, yet graphic eye squidging in Kill Bill Vol II; Jules on brain detail in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino knows his audience and he knows what they want. He’s also a director who continually subverts our expectations, offering us mashups of movies with smatterings of influences and frames of reference snatched from his obviously varied interests. Inglourious Basterds is somewhere between war flick and spaghetti western, with some leaps of artistic faith thrown into the mix. This is no historical epic. Tarantino uses World War II merely as a cultural framework, then brazenly makes his own alternative timeline. True to form he offers us disparate yet interlocking stories, replete with fleshed out characters. No matter how long these people appear on screen - and some are not there for long - you care about them. The film opens in 1941. Colonel Hans Landa, affectionately nicknamed “The Jew Hunter,” is interviewing a French farmer, on the trail of a missing Jewish family. His cold speech about the similarities between the Jew and the rat is a breathtaking introduction. He’s an instantly repugnant and compelling character.
Landa discovers and wipes out this family save one: Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent). She escapes and next time we see her, the movie skipping merrily to 1944, she is living under an assumed name and running her own cinema in Paris. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Aldo “the Apache” Raine, played by Brad Pitt, has assembled a squad of Jewish soldiers with the sole intent of killing as many Nazis as they can lay their hands on. The Basterds take no prisoners with each of their attacks, but leave one man alive, but with a Swastika carved into his forehead by Aldo himself, to tell the tale and spread fear throughout the Third Reich. They learn that the Fuhrer himself is to attend a film premiere in Paris (guess which cinema) and hatch a scheme to blow the entire German High Command sky high. At the same time, Shoshanna begins her own plans for revenge under the Germans’ very noses. Now if Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull taught me anything, besides that George Lucas can now officially kiss my grits, it’s that I’ve missed the Nazis. As cinematic foes go, they are bloody marvellous. Tarantino makes excellent use of their very real evils to great effect, albeit in a stylised and exaggerated way. Inglourious Basterds is another great example of Tarantino as a master of subversion and of bringing together separate but equally gripping vignettes into one overarching narrative. Not as action-packed as you might expect, the movie’s power is in its dialogue; scenes which use the conversation to rack up the tension. Much like the aforementioned titlecard, any movie where Eli Roth plays a character called the “Bear Jew” is most definitely worth a look. Let’s just all take a moment to appreciate that nickname. Brad Pitt, with his southern drawl and poor grasp of Italian pronunciation, is hilarious throughout the movie Michael Fassbender also makes a worthy appearance as British officer Archie Hicox.
However, special “creepy bastard” mention has to go to Christoph Waltz as Landa. Waltz took home the Best Actor award at Cannes this year and believe me it was well-earned. Every scene that he inhabits is a tense, buttock-clenching affair. Every move he makes is considered, every gesture is a threat veiled under a smile. This man will make you nervous just by asking for a glass of milk. The story, while a complete flight of fancy from history, is engaging, and style is at once evocative of the spaghetti western style while being very much its own creature. One beautiful shot early on in the film instantly reminded me of a shot of John Wayne at the very end of the Searchers, but it was more of a respectful nod than a steal. He’s paid geeky attention to the soundtrack too, throwing in Morricone and even in a bit of Bowie for good measure. One thing I feel I must say though: Quentin – enough already about feet. Every movie he makes, particularly the ones starring Uma Thurman, there’s a thing about a woman’s feet in there somewhere. Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown, Selma Hayek in From Dusk Till Dawn, “wiggle your big toe”, the list goes on. I’ve started looking for it now. (This time it’s Diane Kruger’s turn as the glamorous German actress and double-agent Bridget von Hammersmark.) The man’s obviously got feet issues. But I digress. Inglourious Basterds is wonderfully cast and scripted, plays with history in the best possible way and takes the tried and tested genres of the western and the war epic, making something new of both. Expect a light amount of DVD extras: the usual deleted scenes, featurettes and trailers mix. There are more extras to be savoured on the Blu Ray edition: interviews, a 30 minute roundtable with Tarantino, Pitt and film critic Elvis Mitchell and a nifty collection of prints for those who splash out on the limited edition. Rating: 8/10