After cashing in a few of his critical acclaim chips to spend a fair few years paying homage to scuzzy 42nd Street grindhouse scene, Quentin Tarantino turned to more viable genre territory with this stunning, textured and ballsy WW2 flick.
Inglourious Basterds is partly the adventures of the titular team, a band of US-Jewish and Hitler-hating German soldiers on a mission in Nazi-occupied France, led by Brad Pitt’s Aldo Rein, intent on causing as much carnage and humiliation as possible on the Nazis. Meanwhile, Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish girl who evaded capture by the Nazis, runs a cinema, which propaganda minister Josef Goebbels commandeers for the premiere of his latest film.
With the British tipped off that the Nazi top brass plan to attend, a scheme is formed for British agent Archie Hicox to join up the Basterds and launch an attack during the premiere, facilitated by German movie star-cum informant Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). But with the Nazi party on her turf, Shoshanna also spots a chance to avenge her murdered family and take revenge on the man who killed them – infamous Jew-hunter Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz).
As tense and emotive as it is shocking and funny, Inglourious possibly represents Tarantino’s biggest achievement. While Kill Bill and Death Proof saw him moving beyond the overly informal, easy-going hipster quality that he became known for, Inglorious shows a greater dramatic maturity, married to the vibrant dynamic delivery he was always known for.
Some scenes may feel drawn out, especially the opening sequence, but that draws out a deeper emotional resonance than we’ve been used to from QT, as the painfully nervous tension slowly builds. The blood and guts still fly, the snappy dialogue is still there, but it’s more natural-feeling, coming from the character rather than QT’s pen.
Waltz has rightly been given all the props for his portrayal as the exceptionally charming yet evil Landa – his performance is central to everything, both in terms of driving the events and putting a human face to the atrocities. Pitt’s Rein lacks any real depth - there’s no motivation beyond the sport of hunting Nazis, but given Shoshanna’s back story, that would have muddied the plot.
Inglourious is flawed – Tarantino’s film geek obsession with Goebbels’ love affair with cinema is given too much time and detail, with spotter badge minutiae about the German film industry clogging up minutes of screen time. He also refuses to let go of certain motifs, creating a certain repetition. There’s a striking camera shot through a door that’s lifted from John Ford, plus a distinctive piece of tension music that was used in KB1 that crops up again here. Usually a Tarantino strength, the soundtrack here doesn’t seem to work and jars stylistically – as the rest of the film offers a maturity, it might have been more effective to use a score.
After Tarantino’s recent self-indulgence, Inglourious shows that he can make films that appeal to a wider audience than himself and his fans. Smart, tense, funny and packed with his trademark killer moments, IB is proof that Tarantino is a director who’s always worth paying attention to.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Extras: Deleted / extended scenes, featurettes, trailers