Inglourious Basterds is director Quentin Tarantino’s first foray into the World War II genre of film. Told in five chapters, the story follows Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his group of Jewish-American Nazi hunters as they spread fear and terror throughout German-occupied France, killing and scalping Nazis. Walking into Basterds, I expected to see what was shown in the trailers leading up to the film: two-plus hours of Brad Pitt, Eli Roth and that guy from The Office blowing away hundreds of Nazis. And what I got, like most Tarantino films, was something so much better. Tarantino took the premise of a 1970s WWII B-movie about a group of soldiers massacring the Third Reich and made a smart, dialogue-driven, revenge film that everyone can enjoy.
Although this film has been marketed as a non-stop action thrill ride, most of the action in the movie is in the trailer. Altogether, less than 20 minutes of the 153-minute run time of the film is any kind of action. What the film lacks in shootouts and explosions is made up for in Tarantino’s incredible dialogue—one of the director's strong suits ever since Reservoir Dogs. There are countless scenes that begin with what appears to be boring and meaningless drivel that slowly churns its way into becoming carefully crafted attacks, foreshadowing the violent action scenes to come. Even the scenes of subtitled dialogue, which may annoy some, seem to do more damage than any of the mindless killing and depravity shown by the Basterds toward their victims.
All five chapters of the film act as separate set pieces, with a tone completely their own, going back and forth between Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a theater owner who narrowly escapes the clutches of the SS, and the title characters led by “Aldo the Apache” as their paths grow closer and closer together. The story slowly builds a head of steam that grows scene by scene until, by the end of the film, it explodes with unabashed delight as to make one feel bad that they feel so good about how Tarantino’s war ends.
Acting-wise, Christoph Waltz is easily the highlight of the film. The amount of charm he is able to pull off as SS Col. Hans Landa is eerily reminiscent to Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. From the first moments of the film, he is shown as a man who is not only good at what he does, but has a passion for it. He is the most dangerous kind of person: He knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that what he’s doing is right and just.
One thing I didn’t expect from this film was Tarantino using the war to objectify his love and passion for cinema. It felt kind of forced at first, but his message of the subjectivity of film, whether it’s propaganda against an oppressed people or showing a different view of what we think is right and just, catalyzes each view of conflict perfectly in this film. I also never thought I’d say this, but Inglourious Basterds reminded me more of Cinema Paradiso than anything else—just with more guns.
Inglorious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to WWII, the way he thinks it should have been. If only the pivotal battles of the war were begun with long-winded monologues of why we are better than them, only to be followed by over-the-top acts of violence and depravity—and when it’s all over, countries are left to pick up the pieces of their broken city walls and the stacked bodies of their soldiers. If only the ends justified the means. In Tarantino's World War II, they always do.