This is the most exhilarating American film of 2009.
I am serious. Frankly, I am not sure how Quentin Tarantino has managed to accomplish this. This is a film that will probably be number one at the box office (and indeed already is). This is an American film that is trilingual. This is a film that, at first glance, will seem absolutely incomprehensible with its first story, but all of the plots come together in a way that no one would ever expect. It threatens to become a caricature but never does. It is Tarantino’s best film since Pulp Fiction.
The film takes place in some parallel universe where apparently World War II was fought by characters from Spaghetti westerns. The titular Basterds are an elite group of Jewish soldiers who are known for committing violent attacks against the Nazi soldiers. They are lead by Lt Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who is “in the business of killing Nazis, and business is a-booming!.” The British intelligence recruits the Basterds to help with a plan to blow up a theater during the premiere of Goebbels’ new film. The owner of the theater is also looking for revenge against one of the audience members: one Col. Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz). The result is a cavaclade of coincidence, missed opportunities, and plenty of violence.
First off, Waltz deserves an Oscar nomination. There is no way to hide that in the review. It deserves to be addressed right up front. This is an actor who had to create a character with the charm of Vincent Vega, the cunning of Hannibal Lector, and the screen presence of Anton Chigurh. In addition, he had to do this in three different languages. The deck was stacked against Waltz. I cannot think of any actor who would be able to pull this sort of thing off. But Waltz does. And he does so about as well as any actor can. There are so many moments featuring Landa that are destined to become classics.
That reminds me of another aspect. Tarantino usually depends on conversation to keep his films moving. Most decried Death Proof as to “talky” or that most of the dialogue was unnecessary and did not help the story at all. This is a little unfair; Death Proof was not a complete failure. But it certainly was not as good as this. Tarantino maintains the same style of dialogue, again, with the different languages. I know I seem kind of in awe of the fact that the film is told using three languages. This is an American film. We are lucky if we even have the graffiti on the wall be in Spanish. To use not one, but two languages aside from English is more than brave. It is the equivalent of a grade school child spray painting the quadratic formula on the wall of the school. Dangerous, rebellious, and demonstrates the vast intelligence the artist possesses.
One notable demonstration of this occurs in a bar with the basterds trying to infiltrate the Nazis by putting on uniforms and trying to carry on normal conversations in German. The pay off of this scene is so great and the attention to detail so pronounced that it all comes down to an insignificant hand gesture. Another scene involves the owner of the French cinema talking about the respect the French have for directors. It is all a joy to listen to. Even if you do not speak the languages in question, you will be just as entranced as you were with the “Royale with Cheese” speech.
Maybe I am so excited to see Quentin Tarantino actually make the type of film that he has supposedly been making throughout his career. I did not really care for the Kill Bill films. Oh sure, they were competently made. Very few directors would ever be in a position to create that sort of work. But Quentin Tarantino did not create a film to the level of Pulp Fiction. Yes, at this point he probably will not make a film that good again. But with Kill Bill, he wasn’t really trying. It was as though he was not as passionate about the material as he was with Pulp. Now, the passion returns with this.
Inglourious Basterds represents everything that the audience wants from Tarantino. Some may probably still think its too violent, and too “talky.” The rest of us are treated to a complex, brutal film with one of the best endings in recent memory. Tarantino has made a love letter to cinema lovers who understand where he comes from. For us, to watch Inglourious Basterds is to love it.