| The Red Right Hand
The plot of Inglourious Basterds is, to say the least, a tad peculiar. A vengeance tale with a world war two backdrop but one so skewed from reality that it becomes surreally humorous - strange statement, I know. In theory, the best comparison I can draw is with the movie's title, or more aptly, the misspelling of the title. The words are known to us, everything seems correct and commonplace and yet something is off. The inclusion of a different vowel in the first word and the replacement of another vowel in the second. The words still technically say and mean the same thing, we vocalise the title as if pronouncing the words correctly but it's wrong. The same could be said for this film: everything seems in place, everything looks pitch-perfect for a WWII drama but something is amiss, out of place and although the events of the war unfold in a familiar manner, there are still plenty of moments that will remind you that this world is ultimately fictitious.
Alright, cryptic elements aside, the plot is rather basic. The story is divided into five chapters, following the actions of three groups: first off, we have the exploits of the nefarious Colonel, Hans Landa [Waltz] and his systematic hunting of the Jewish people; secondly we have the eponymous Basterds, a group of Jewish-American soldiers led be Lt. Aldo Raine [Pitt], in a blood thirsty quest for revenge and Nazi extermination; and finally, Shoshanna [Laurent], the sole survivor of one of Landa's investigations and her attempts to sabotage a piece of propaganda cinema. By the time the final act rolls around, all three elements have interwoven themselves and hinge upon the success of two separate (albeit unbeknownst to each other) assassination plots.
Tarantino's a true talent, I've never disputed that. Even his lowest grade is still a work of significant merit when compared to the tripe generated by contemporary cinema. If anything works against him, it's his love for schlock cinema of the seventies. His pictures are direct, fast-paced, foul mouthed, viciously violent and yet, all arguably realistic. As a fan of movies and not simply one particular style or genre, he really knows how to deliver a completely rounded piece, realising that the key element to a film's success is the characters and the actors who portray them with such vigour and flare. It is in this respect that Basterds works so well; you become so immersed in this fictional wartime espionage tale that you completely forget how absurd the very concept is. The characters are credible, played by credible actors and as such, we believe every one of them, no matter how ridiculous their role may be. Adding to this element of realism is the dispensability he places on his cast; essentially, no one is safe.
Before pressing on to the negative points, I would like to highlight two distinctly impressive aspects, the first being the casting. Unlike previous war flicks, the natives speak their own tongue - just as we almost never see Russians and Middle Easterns speaking English with bad accents anymore, so too should we expect it from our WWII films. As such, Tarantino has enlisted the help of many fine European actors/actresses, who often outshine the exploits of the on-screen Americans. As a fan of European cinema it was absolutely fascinating to see talents such as Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, Christian Berkel, Michael Fassbender, Mike Myers, Julie Dreyfus, Samm Levine and August Diehl crop up for a scene or two with as much ambiguity and (at the same time) attention as any other character. The second point actually refers to something I announced in Episode 13 of my podcast as 'impossible.' Basically, Michael Durrant, Charles Meigh and I were discussing the role of Nazis On Film and the increase of sympathetic movies that have been released over the past five years. At the end of our debate I claimed that what I wanted was a tale in which I would be able to decide for myself whether to forgive or condemn the on-screen soldiers/politicians for their actions. It was then decided that such a request would be impossible in narrative fiction and one must look to documentaries to gain anything close to impartiality. However, Inglourious Basterds seems to deliver exactly what I asked for and not by presenting clear-cut facts as we had predicted but by elevating the on-screen mayhem to such a degree of lunacy that it becomes possible to judge outside of the context of reality. In other more simplistic words, this film is clearly not set in our historically accepted WWII and as such we can make up our own minds without past associations, grievances or guilt.
And finally, the negative points, because despite everything this film is fucking weird and as such, there are a few moments of contention that desperately need to be addressed. First off, I didn't care much for the Basterds. I found their outfit cruel and ruthless. I understood their place in the movie, I understood their barbaric acts in the context of the film and even the need for brutality in their execution of vengeance but as a soulless hunting and killing machine they seemed faceless, largely because of problem number two. The biggest negative point I can attach to this entire project is that of character development or the lack of. There's so much going on that you so rarely get inside the character's head and discover their drives and bar a few flashbacks, no one really has any backstory.
In summation, I think Inglourious Basterds is a wonderfully daring example of experimental cinema (but at the same time ridiculously over-the-top, peaked by the movie's rather curious finale) and a clear-cut sign that Tarantino is a true pioneer of good movies, for hiring on acting credibility and ability as opposed to name and status. However, as delightful and risqué as it is, it's also wholly unnecessary and a completely indulgent film that strives to achieve very little of anything.
UK - 21st August 2009
US - 21st August 2009
The Scene To Look Out For:
I thought Tarantino's love for the work of Sergio Leone was more than apparent in Kill Bill: Vol. II but surprisingly enough, nothing tops Inglourious Basterds' opening scene. Deep in the heart of the French countryside, a dairy farmer chops away at logs in the summer sun. Hearing something in the distance, his daughter alerts her father. Wiping his brow, he calmly asks his daughter to run a basin of water and go inside the house, taking care not to run. As the motorcade pulls up outside the farmer's house, he invites the Nazis inside. The head of the group, Col. Hans Landa is more than hospitable, choosing to speak French and then adopting English (although it is beautifully justified) before divulging the reason for his visit. For the majority of cinemagoers, I shouldn't think the actors will be instantly recognisable and as the language skips back-and-forth from German to English to French (and later Italian), many may be hostile to this opening but the rising tension and foreboding of what's to come is undeniable and truly one of the highlights of the entire film.
As stated, I wasn't exactly a big fan of the Basterds and many of the European actors, as talented as they all were, all seemed to be shadowed by the work of one man, Chrisoph Waltz's Hans Landa. The Nazi officer is not only a sick, vile, twisted individual but a truly rational and sane human being - the best kind of villain. One who is so enjoyable to watch to the extent that when you eventually witness the horrors he is capable of, you're almost surprised it's the same individual. To be fair, everyone involved in this release deserves a mention for their stellar performances but to be outshone by this individual is a great achievement on his part and one that will no doubt be talked about throughout every review of this feature.
"My name is Shoshanna Dreyfus and this is the face of Jewish vengeance"
In A Few Words:
"Blisteringly daring and innovative; a work of sheer excellence that dances along the thin blade that divides madness and brilliance"