Inglorious Basterds (2009) – on rental. Quentin Tarantino is one of those film directors who can make any film he pleases: and even with the trademark eccentricities in his productions, everyone of them will still be critically acclaimed hits. The entire list of A-actors in Hollywood typically line up for roles in his films, even for cameo work.
The story of Inglorious Basterds concerns a small squad of Jewish-American soldiers in World War II specifically organized for one reason: to kill Nazi soldiers in the most vicious manner possible, with each person in the team expected by their commanding officer, Lt. Aldo Raine played by Brad Pitt in his usual bad-boy mode, to chalk up 100 scalps as due payment to him for accepting them into his squad. Tied into this main overarching story are major story lines of a young Jewish woman Shosanna who operates a French theater selected by Joseph Goebbels, the German wartime Minister of Propaganda to premier a Nazi-produced war film, and also a senior German SS investigator and officer, Colonel Hans Landa, nicknamed the “Jew Hunter”.
For those of us not in the know – scalping is most commonly associated with the practices of Native American Indians in the 19th century in claiming trophies when they killed their enemies: and it involves using a sharp knife to remove part of your enemy’s forehead, usually but not always when they were dead. Just to get it out of the way: you’ll see this act of scalping in Tarantino’s film – and it’s only for this reason why I didn’t watch this film when Ling was around. She might just have fainted from the sight!
But like Spielberg’s films, you won’t feel that gore or violence is gratuitous in Inglorious Basterds, unlike say the two Kill Bill films, also by Tarantino. The violence here is tightly integrated into the narrative, and it’s portrayed as it might had been in reality – war is a nasty and messy business. The film has substantially more talky and dramatic scenes of tension than outright violent action (i.e. combat). There is a handful of scenes where firearms are used and people are getting killed, but they are very few and short but extremely violent.
There are two more aspects of this film that must be mentioned. Firstly, there are no sacred cows in Inglorious Basterds. Every character is fair game, even the main leading ones. You don’t expect a main character to meet his demise, and when he suddenly does (or doesn’t), you’ll be left shocked as how next is the story going to turn. That contributes to a very high level of nervous tension in the film, and it’s worth mentioning again that that anxiety doesn’t come from violence but simply well-written and dialogued dramatic scenes. I haven’t chewed my finger nails while watching films for a long while, but this film had me doing just that!
The stunning script is matched also by some of the best acting performances I’ve seen in the last 12 months, of which Christoph Waltz’s Colonel Landa (above picture) tops the heap. The Austrian actor speaks three languages fluently: German, English, and French – and he exercises this linguistic talent by speaking all three and Italian in the film. His Landa is a cultured, well-mannered and milk-drinking (!) gentleman, but also frighteningly and ruthlessly methodical, and efficient with a brilliant mind at investigation. The closest match in character composition and theme I can think of is Ralph Fiennes’ Commandant Amon Göth in Schindler’s List, but Waltz beats Fiennes by the mile here. His portrayal of Landa is utterly mesmerizing, and he now ranks as the best onscreen villain ever – Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector is now a distant second. Waltz has been unsurprisingly nominated for the Best Supporting Actor in the upcoming Oscars (he’s already won an astonishing 26 acting awards for his role in this film) – an award I hope he wins!
Inglorious Basterds has also been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director apart from Waltz’s Best Supporting Actor nomination. I’m uncertain if the film will take the first award though, given the stiff competition it’s getting from the other war-film nominated in the list, specifically The Hurt Locker, and also James Cameron’s Avatar – which was all spit and shine but relatively little substance. Even if not, Inglorious Basterds is one of the best films I’ve seen in a while, and rates an unqualified…