Review by Jack Foley
QUENTIN Tarantino is never one to do things by half measures. Hence, if he’s going to change the course of history during his World War II epic Inglourious Basterds, he’s going to do it in the most outrageous way possible.
By presenting it as an adult fairytale, or a “once upon a time in Nazi occupied France” he gets away with it. What’s more, he’s created one of the most distinctive and unique war epics of all time.
Inglourious Basterds plays like a cross between men on a mission movies such as Where Eagles Dare and the Spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, albeit with a generous dose of that trademark Tarantino dialogue to spice up proceedings.
It’s split into five chapters, unfolds from several different perspectives and is choc full of memorable verbal exchanges and short, sharp bursts of ultra-violence. In short, it’s everything you could possibly wish for from a Tarantino war movie… and more.
Some may argue that it’s wordily self-indulgent and wildly OTT. But the writer-director wouldn’t have it any other way and his fans should lap up every single lovingly crafted frame.
The story divides its time between several characters, including Brad Pitt’s Lt Aldo Raine, the battle-scarred leader of the Basterds, who is on a mission behind enemy lines to claim as many Nazi scalps as possible, Melanie Laurent’s Shosanna Dreyfus, a Jewish cinema owner seeking revenge for the slaughter of her family, and Christoph Waltz’s scene-stealing Col Hans Landa, the Nazi Jew hunter everyone wants to kill.
Events come together at Shosanna’s cinema for an explosive finale that could ultimately bring down the Third Reich and change the course of the war.
Admittedly, Inglourious Basterds does occasionally struggle to justify its two and a half hour running time and is very wordy in places.
But it’s a movie of mesmerising moments that perfectly illustrate Tarantino’s unrivalled mastery of vocabulary.
The opening chapter, for instance, between Waltz’s Landa and Jew-harbouring suspect Denis Menochet is a masterclass in tension and one of the best scenes of this or any year.
While several other moments excel, including a game of charades between Michael Fassbender’s Archie Hicox and some curious German ‘comrades’, Pitt’s torture of several German soldiers, a delightful Mike Myers cameo and the overblown finale that mixes laugh out loud humour, high tension and ultra-violence to seemless effect.
Performances-wise, everybody rises to the challenges presented by Tarantino’s wordy script, with Pitt as cool as ever and revelling in another accent, Laurent a revelation as Shosanna, and everyone from Fassbender and Diane Kruger to Eli Roth registering in some way.
Pick of the players, though, is Christoph Waltz’s mesmerising Hans Landa, a complex, charismatic and deeply scheming Jew hunter whose performance deserves every accolade thrown at it. He is the compelling reason for seeing it, providing a multi-lingual tour-de-force that exhilarates whenever he is on-screen.
Tarantino bashers may insist that the writer-director needs to get his ego in check and hasn’t made a good film since Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown. Inglourious Basterds may do little to adjust their opinion.
But if you like cinema that dares to be different, that’s knowingly reverential and fiercely unique, and which boasts a cavalier spirit that’s second to none, Inglourious Basterds is hard to beat.
Running time: 2hrs 25mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: December 7, 2009
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- Buy it on Limited Edition Blu-ray (Amazon)
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- Read the review
- Quentin Tarantino interview
- Diane Kruger interview
- Lawrence Bender interview
- Inglourious Basterds photo gallery
- Inglourious Basterds proves a hit at Cannes
- Inglourious Basterds First Look Gallery
- Inglourious Basterds enlists recruits through Facebook