Alternate history WWII film impresses reviewers
September 17, 2009
History is written by the winners. This sad political truism shines a telling light on our biased, prideful nature as humans, but Quentin Tarantino proves that it’s not always a bad thing in his latest, and dare I say greatest, farce that tackles not only the Third Reich, but cinema’s exclusive role in toppling it.
“Inglourious Basterds” – and yes, the misspelling is intentional so as to distinguish this from the not-so-hot 1978 Dirty Dozen ripoff of the same name – works a hypnotic wonderment over audiences as it deals decisively with a growing frustration in WWII pictures: everyone already knows the ending, and how monumentally anticlimactic is Hitler dying in his own bunker? Thankfully, Dr. Tarantino has given us a poetic, ironic and flat-out ballsy remedy: Hitler’s death comes early, concocted and carried out by none other than a bunch of Jews!
The titular Basterds are a group of Jewish-American soldiers led by Brad Pitt’s Lieutenant Aldo Raine, a hillbillyturned- war hero, who demands 100 Nazi scalps from each of his men. And he wants his scalps, leading the Basterds through Nazioccupied France, butchering Germans by the score; those lucky enough to be left alive by this band apart are left with a Swastika carved in their forehead.
Drawn in parallel is the sadistic SS Colonel Hans Landa, nicknamed the “Jew Hunter” and played to a haunting perfection by Christoph Waltz (pay attention, Oscar). Landa operates as the devil’s detective, playing a genocidal game of cat and mouse as he mercilessly hunts down the remaining Juden in France. His work leads him to a small dairy farm where he suspects the Dreyfus family to be hiding under the floorboards. He’s right, but a lone figure escapes – Shosanna – who reappears in Paris as a French cinema owner some years later.
There, Shosanna calculatingly flirts with Fredrick Zoller, a droll Audi Murphywannabe war hero turned actor starring in Dr. Joespeh Goebbles newest propagandist picture, Nation’s Pride. In order to cur more favor, Zoller moves his premiere to Shosanna’s theater, giving her the perfect opportunity to enact “Jewish vengeance.”
Upon learning of the premiere, the Basterds set in motion their own plan to sabotage the premiere. The dual narratives converge on a crash course at Shosanna’s theater house, each headed for the same alternative conclusion once it is revealed that the Fuhrer himself will be in attendance.
And with that, Quentin orchestrates a symphony of simmering vignettes, each building with unbearable tension towards a flash-boil ending. What’s most [in]glourious about Basterds, however, is the World War dreamscape called up from the frontlines of Quentin’s imagination. He does things his own way, and doesn’t really care if audiences agree. As GI Jews run amuck, QT once again leans on the steely wiles of wronged femme fatales to carry forward his familiar plot of bloody revenge.
And bloody it is. Like all QT pop art, Basterds showcases extreme forms of violence, but the buckets of blood serve as gut punch lines, never attempting to take over the scene. The real star of the show is the dialogue, which fires with machine gun rapidity. Quentin has already proven to be a defining director of our age, but his ear for the spoken word is what really distinguishes him as a one-of-a- kind.
“Inglourious Basterds” is like no other film you’ve ever seen. The sardonic streak of black humor is prevalent, but masks an insidious tension that tightens around your neck like a noose. The 152-minute runtime may seem intimidating, but the brilliant script and inspired acting, along with a big ol’ case of Nazi whoopass, combine to make this one of the best movies of the decade.
The film closes with Lt. Raine leaning in close to the camera as he says, “This might just be my masterpiece.” The line is very obviously Quentin talking, and I must say, I couldn’t agree more.
Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.