“Say “Auf Wiedersehen” to your Nazi balls!“
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Runtime: 153 minutes
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz
Having done crime films, a hitman centered film, and a stuntman slasher film, and various guest director appearances on TV, Quentin Tarantino turned his attention to a war film in the shape of “Inglourious Basterds”. The title of this film was inspired by Enzo G. Castellari’s 1978 film “The Inglorious Bastards”, although Tarantino’s film is not directly adapted from it. I cannot give you any fun facts about why the title to Tarantino’s film is spelled the way it is, he’s never really offered up any good justification, so it is what it is and that’s that.
This film sees two plots afoot to assassinate Nazi Germany’s leadership in a fictitious alternative timeline to what we know to be true from our history books. One plot is the work of a young French Jewish cinema proprietor, and the other is an American plan which is being spearheaded by Jewish American soldiers.
Mélanie Laurent plays Shosanna Dreyfus/ Emmanuelle Mimieux, a young Jewish girl. After escaping the execution of her family at the hands of SS officer Standartenführer Hans Landa (Christop Waltz), she flees to France and hides in plain sight as a cinema owner. A propaganda film is soon to be released and the star of the film, Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) is infatuated with her, so unbeknownst to her, he gets permission from Joseph Goebbels to have the film premier at her cinema. This could spell doom for Shosanna though as Hans Landa is the head of security for the event. Likewise, it could play out well to get her some revenge against the atrocities she has faced, and she is quick to plot a plan with her lover Marcel (Jacky Ido) that will deal with the Nazi leadership who are due to attend.
Meanwhile, the “Basterds” are not far away. A crack group of American-Jewish commandos who are out to cause problems for the Nazi regime. They are making waves by hunting down Nazis and executing them, and occasionally carving Nazi symbols into soldiers’ heads so for evermore they will never escape people knowing the war crimes they committed. Led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and working with British Commando Lieutenant Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) a plan is devised called Operation Kino (Kino being the German word for Cinema). They meet up with German film star Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who is working as an allied spy and is due to attend the film premier at Shosanna’s cinema. They plan to attack the cinema, gun down the Nazi leaders, and then blow the place to Hell with bombs.
Two plots, one film – that calls for a big cast list, surely? Well let’s see: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christop Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, Gedeon Burkhard, Jacky Ido, B. J. Novak, Omar Doom, Mike Myers, Julie Dreyfus, Rod Taylor, Léa Seydoux…. The list goes on and on. It is a massive and mixed cast with plenty of American actors, German actors, French, and British actors too. Harvey Keitel is hidden away uncredited, as is Samuel L. Jackson, and of course Tarantino himself too.
From the list of actors that performed in this film, for me the standout performance came from Christoph Waltz. Austrian-born Waltz flirted between charming and menacing easily, and as much as you want to like him, you also must fear him. Its worth noting that at the back of my mind, when I say, ‘like him’, I mean with pinch of salt of course – he is still portraying a mass murdering, genocidal, killer. Mélanie Laurent is equally fantastic in this film and has a good character development arc turning from the hunted to the huntress through the course of this film. I usually like Fassbender and Pitt in films too, but Fassbender’s character is too smarmy and clever for his own good, and Pitt, well he is almost a caricature in this – an over the top, almost cartoon-like, buffoon that seems out of place in the entirety of the film.
As a violent war film with enough action to be palatable, and with the usual kind of overt dialogue you expect from a Tarantino film, this is generally a decent film. Despite its whopping 153-minute runtime it does not feel like it is dragging too much. Commercially it did well too; made with a budget of $70 million it went on to gross $321.5 million. The finances achieved makes this film Tarantino’s highest grossing film until he releases “Django Unchained” in 2012. Another thing that I enjoyed in this film was the mise-en-scène – it was an epic film to look and watch unfold. This probably all reads like there is “but” coming…. Well, there is. It was a fun film but…
(Unpopular opinion time – don’t hate me!)… but… I did not find this film that engaging, or not as engaging as Tarantino’s other films anyway, it feels like a film whereby I was watching it at a distance rather than one where I was fully immersed and engaged with a characters. It also did not feel as intelligent as it could have been. In trying to solve their problems and win the day, the Jewish characters act in a very Nazi-like way. They fight violence with more violence to cure the initial violence. I know what people say about war and what it does to people. To quote one of my favourite games, “Fallout” – “War. War never changes. Men do, through the roads they walk” – but they didn’t in this film. It was more brutal violence to ‘one-up’ the brutal violence that we don’t really see on-screen, other than perhaps Shosanna’s intro in the film, and maybe the propaganda films within the film. We assume from our knowledge of history but if we are in an alternative reality for the film, so maybe it could have been explored a little for emphasis rather than something to be assumed.
The film also felt very gung-ho pro-America saving the day. I know Shosanna’s cinema plays a pivotal role, but a lot of the film feels like the American’s are never far away and ultimately serve as the catalyst for victory. I fully understand the film is a piece of fiction in a random alternative history, but it felt very shallow, suggesting violence is the answer, something the film felt compelled to glorify. Perhaps if the film had of been just one plot, that of the Shosanna character getting revenge it might have felt better, and then more so just like a revenge film that Tarantino is famed for. The addition of the “Basterds” though felt as though Tarantino desperately needed a visual display of violence on show to satisfy the need for bloodshed and splatter. They ended up playing out like cartoons from a comic strip the likes of which you would find on American tabloids as pro-American propaganda during the war – not that I have seen many of these for the record, it is just the way it feels. The intelligent thing would have been to explore Shosanna, but no, let us go down the dumb jock head-smashing, gun-totting route instead.
Visually a nice-looking film, just not very clever and underdeveloped in places – in fact, I would go as far as saying it’s a bit self-indulgent at times too. I can see the parts where Tarantino has taken inspiration from Spaghetti Westerns, I can see where war films where the inspiration, I can even see random exploitation influences in this. But a masterpiece? No. An epic? Perhaps if you look at the cast, the scale of the movie, and the beautiful cinematography. A clever film? Far from it. A funny film then? Not really – cracking heads and jokes may tickle certain people but not me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge lover of gore films, but this didn’t feel right all the way through with this film. Even second, third, fourth, and fifth viewings did not let me find a massive love for the film. Executed well, but like a stereotypical muscle man, not much brain with it. The film starts off well, really well in fact with probably the most intense scene of the film (the farmhouse), but by contrast, the end of the film and the cinema finale is a bit of a let-down and feels rushed.
While I am only giving it a mediocre score in my rating system, I am not blind to the fact that this film scores high, won awards, and appears in many a top 100 list for famous critics. For me though, give me “Kill Bill”, or “Reservoir Dogs” any day. This is competent enough of a film, I just think it loses it’s way a little the longer it goes on.