Feature: Inglourious Basterds
Christoph Waltz’s award winning portrayal of Standartenfuhrer Hans Landa is the stuff legends are made of. Never before, and never since, has the world seen such a multi-faceted, complex, charming, sinister, frightening antagonist – and Landa’s a Nazi to boot.
ChristophWaltzFans.com ‘s official Inglourious Basterds Review
Inglourious Basterds was the Tarantino project which no fan thought would ever see the day of light. As far back as the early 1990’s, Quentin Tarantino was publicly talking about the World War II epic he intended to make. Again and again, the project failed to materialize, with Tarantino’s efforts turning towards Jackie Brown, Kill Bill and Death Proof instead. Then seemingly out of nowhere, Inglourious Basterds finally hit the cinema after a colossal decade of sporadic writing.
Ever one to turn the rule book on its head, Tarantino tears every rule to shreds in Inglourious Basterds. This is not a typical evil Nazis versus heroic Americans moral battle. Neither is it a serious or poignant examination of war and suffering. Tarantino takes the context of World War II and uses it as the backdrop for his own masterful and playful fantasy pastiche of the war and western genre. Everything from cultural stereotypes to actual historical facts is swept aside within the landscape of Inglourious Basterds.
In typical Tarantino fashion, Inglourious Basterds is a complex tangle of multiple narratives, with various characters slowly being drawn together for an ensemble final act. Amongst the large array of characters we have the Basterds, a group of Americans lead by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his deputy Donny (Eli Roth), who have made it their mission to scalp and murder Nazi soldiers. We also have the tale of Jewish Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) who at the beginning of the film witnesses the massacre of her family at the hands of Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and is intent on her own revenge plan. The final strand to this complex tale is German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), acting as a double agent in order to assist British Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), with less than desired results.
From a technical perspective, Inglourious Basterds is quite possibly Tarantino’s most accomplished and stylish film to date. Every frame is beautifully crafted and sumptuous in detail, from the beautiful sets to the breathtaking color palette. The film is rich and vibrant in shades of greens, yellows and reds and serves as a sharp contrast to the often simplistic yet stylish appearance of the typical Tarantino film. Tarantino’s directorial vision is enhanced enormously by the brilliant work of his faithful, and sadly now departed, editor Sally Menke. It is perhaps a fitting that Tarantino and Menke’s final film collaboration features easily the most stunning scene ever included in a Tarantino picture, namely the infamous ‘Chapter One’ opening sequence. The unbearable twenty-two minutes of tension that unravels in front of the audience as Hans Landa hones in on his prey like a cat pursuing a mouse makes for one of the most memorable opening sequences in recent cinematic memory.
Tarantino is a director who rarely concerns himself with chasing big stars for his films, so it is ironic that Brad Pitt, easily the most famous name Tarantino has worked with to date, is effortlessly outclassed by his European counterparts. In Mélanie Laurent, Daniel Brühl, August Diehl and Til Schweiger, Tarantino has unearthed some truly exceptional European acting talent which makes for some outstanding performances. However, the real scene-stealer of Inglourious Basterds is without doubt Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa. Devilishly cruel, fiendishly clever and often hysterically funny, Landa is an extraordinarily complex character who manages to both terrify and charm the audience. Waltz gives a simply stunning performance, combining menace and a big dollop of whimsical camp to create endless moments of memorable joy. Waltz’s performance is made particularly exceptional by his astonishingly perfect timing, turning the tiniest gesture such as the eating of a strudel or the producing of a pipe into moments of sheer terror or laughter. In his final showdown scene sitting opposite Brad Pitt, arguably the most well known name in Hollywood, the extent to which Waltz outperforms him is simply remarkable.
Like most Tarantino films, the heart of the piece comes from the colorful and memorable script, and Inglourious Basterds boasts a screenplay of extreme imagination. Whilst perhaps not quite as razor sharp as Pulp Fiction, the film is tightly structured and often hugely witty, particularly through the words spoken by Landa. Credit also must be given to Tarantino for the extent to which the film is a multi-lingual piece, with huge portions of the film running without any English dialogue.
Tarantino always claimed Inglourious Basterds would be his masterpiece, so much so that he slyly implies as such in the final line of the film. Whilst there will always be those that champion his other films, Inglourious Basterds is most certainly his most complete and satisfying film. Combining technical beauty, a brilliantly imaginative script and some outstanding performances, Tarantino has created a true modern masterpiece which can be savored repeatedly, always offering something new to discover.