Quentin Tarantino need never make another film for as long as he lives. With the earliest films in his brilliant but hubris-laden career-Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction-he reinvented filmmaking, from narrative styles to cinematographic techniques to hi-jinks action. On their own terms, those two films have few equals. Since then, he's spent his time championing B-movies and other flashy directors like Robert Rodriguez; doing stand-up comedy interviews and only one other good film, Kill Bill. Therefore, many people approached his new film Inglourious Basterds with trepidation.
It is a revenge drama set during the Second World War. The villains are the Nazis, of course, and Tarantino sets his sights on no one less than Adolf Hitler himself. The story goes like this-the Allied powers set up a group of rag-tag men, all Jews, as a covert commando force and drop them behind enemy lines in occupied France with the sole objective of killing as many Nazis as they can. Their main goal would be to eliminate Hitler himself when he arrives in Paris. Called the Inglourious Basterds-yes, with the spelling mistakes- they are led by a taciturn American oddball called Lt. Aldo Raine, played for laughs by Brad Pitt. A parallel plot has a young Jewish French girl called Shosana-played by Melanie Laurent-escape the massacre of her family at the hands of the suave and deadly Col. Hans Landa, promising revenge.
Through quirks of fate-and adroit scripting-these two plots converge in a thrilling finale in a Parisian movie theatre where all the main protagonists-and Hitler and Goebbels-jostle for supremacy. The plot is negligible, but what makes this film entertaining is that Tarantino seems to have rediscovered his nous for writing a killer script. Before he was a filmmaker, Tarantino was actually a writer, so its no surprise that he can craft such brilliance as the opening sequence where Landa comes to interrogate a farmer who is hiding the Jewish family.
Wordy, like all Tarantino set pieces, the sequence gradually ratchets up the tension and the menace until you're too afraid to see what's going to happen next. This is classic Tarantino, and it works beautifully. As to be expected, Tarantino is not squeamish to deliver an unhealthy amount of blood and gore, but unlike Kill Bill, he does not overdo it, retaining the spectacle of flying blood only for key scenes.
The other thing he does is to celebrate the quirky individuals who have almost no right to alter history but end up doing so. Whether it's the Basterds themselves who are strictly off the record or Shosana, an unassuming owner of a small theatre. This movie gives hope to oddballs. Indeed, the major players-whether fictional or real- are the ones who play second fiddle to the ones from the margins.
The film isn't really about anything, other than Tarantino's intense love for films. He evokes and namechecks many of his favourites here-from a Where Eagles Darestyled bar room shootout to a Dr. Strangelove-like war room in England. The acting is camped up to the extreme-to the extent that all that Brad Pitt does is to pull a face and strut through his scenes with a pronounced southern American accent. However, Christopher Waltz, as Landa, lifts the film with his gently menacing performance-a warm, avuncular monster with sharp eyes and an even sharper brain. In the end Inglourious Basterds is not a major work, not even essential. But it is a lot of fun.