"I think this might be my masterpiece," says Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) at one point in Quentin Tarantino's new, poorly spelled film, Inglourious Basterds, presumably echoing the director's own sentiments, as he has been quoted numerous times saying that it is the best thing he has ever done. To put it succinctly, it's not. Is it a good film? No. It's a great film, but it's certainly not a masterpiece. Though it is unquestionably his best since Pulp Fiction, it doesn't match the brilliance of his first feature length movie, Reservoir Dogs and considering how good of a director Tarantino is, that's high praise.
Inglourious Basterds begins in Nazi occupied France in 1941 outside the home of a poor farmer. One day, a group of Nazis, led by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) arrives at his door with an inkling that he may be housing a family of Jews. Through his audacious persuasion and clever tongue, Col. Landa talks the farmer into outing the Jews living underneath his floorboards, bringing his men in and having them shoot through the floorboards killing everybody except for one French-Jewish woman, Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) who escapes. Flash forward four years (which is dated as 1944--good math QT!) and she finds herself in ownership of a cinema that will be premiering a new German film for the German soldiers, and it seems that Hitler may be in attendance. Meanwhile, a ragtag group of men who call themselves the Basterds have joined together in an effort to kill as many Nazis as they can, collecting each and every scalp as a souvenir. Their main goal is to kill Hitler and all of the commanding officers, thus ending the war. They eventually learn of this movie premiere and begin to think that it could be the ticket they were waiting for.
What's surprising, especially after Tarantino's last few action-oriented pictures like Death Proof and Kill Bill (mainly Vol. 1), is that Basterds is very much a dialogue driven movie. It may take place during an alternate WWII, but this isn't a movie with non-stop 'splosions similar to the usual Michael Bay fiasco. At a runtime of just over two and a half hours, this summer's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was action upon action with a little more action sprinkled on top for good measure and it bored me to tears. Inglourious Basterds on the other hand has the same runtime and it's mostly talking, but it kept me entertained throughout. The story is moved along through character interactions rather than action and it proves that good writing should always come before good special effects.
And nobody can write a script, or more specifically, dialogue, like Quentin Tarantino and he has one-upped himself with Basterds, an aural soliloquy guaranteed to put the audience into a mesmerizing, awe induced trance. The dialogue isn't just good, it's positively delightful. Though every scene deserves praise, the opening in particular is a joy to listen to, with Col. Landa and the farmer playing mind games with each other, trying to intellectually outwit the other and hide any weaknesses that may reveal what their true intentions are. There is so much well written dialogue flowing back and forth that your head will spin. Inglourious Basterds is a movie that demands to be seen again. It's artistry is profound and not a single line goes to waste. This is an exceptionally well written movie.
Though some questionable casting is a bit confounding (Michael Myers as a British general is too much of a parallel with his comedic British alter ego Austin Powers and it doesn't work), the performances are by and large excellent. Brad Pitt is wonderful as Lt. Raine and works as the catalyst to Tarantino's trademark dark humor, giving off plenty of laughs with his hillbilly, Tennessee accent and lighthearted demeanor. However, it's Christoph Waltz who steals the show. He's entrancing as the black hearted, colloquial colonel that works as the antithesis to Lt. Raine's Basterds and deserves at the very least to be nominated for an Oscar come award season.
Inglourious Basterds isn't a film with a lot of flaws, as my incessant praise has most certainly shown by now, but along with the sometimes baffling casting, there were a few aspects of its design that were trite and unneeded. Occasionally, a scene would be accompanied by a redundant narration that did nothing but repeat what had already been established. For example, a plan is hatched midway through the movie where Shosanna plans on burning down the whole theater during the movie premiere while the Germans are locked inside, explaining that she can use the hundreds of 35mm reels in the building as a firestarter. Contextually, it's not hard to deduce that the 35mm reels burn well, yet the narrator (Samuel L. Jackson) still comes on and explains that they're highly flammable and burn three times faster than paper, an irrelevant fact that did nothing but dumb down what was otherwise a very smart movie.
Still, this is a great film that should be celebrated. It's been ten years in the making and the final product is exuberating. It's a technical marvel, as is usual with Tarantino who always delivers a beautiful looking movie, and aesthetically is nothing short of genius. Any problems that exist are relatively minor, though I'm afraid it may not have the lastingness some of the other, better films this year have had and could fall just shy of cracking a best of the year list. But make no mistake, Inglourious Basterds is accomplished filmmaking and you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Inglourious Basterds receives 4.5/5