I remember when Inglourious Basterds was coming out in august 2009, I was just about completing my graduation and on the threshold of getting into a job. The trailers would have this line which read informed the viewers that they had not experienced the “all” of war films until they had experienced one through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino. When I first saw this film, I believed in those very words and now watching it again in a re-furbished home theater system at the comfort of my home in the best collector’s edition DVD that I could find, I still feel the same. With all the years that have piled on and even so the huge amount of good war films that have seen the light of the day, Inglourious Basterds still maintains a cult following primarily because of the eccentric style in which it was made by a man who has truly infused something new and extraordinarily interesting in a war film which for most of the time is at the brink of transcending genres.
The film starts off with a young Jewish girl Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) watching her family butchered by a Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) of the SS. The execution happens after a discussion between the Colonel and the man harboring Shosanna’s family in which the colonel literally hypnotizes the man in to submission with his mere words. I bet no one ever has seen a discussion between an oppressor and the oppressed of this fashion before. Shosanna escapes the execution. Meanwhile a company of Jewish American Soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) make their way into Nazi occupied France where they plan to do one thing and one thing only, killing Nazis and making a picture of their brutal ends to instill fear in the enemy.
Back in France, The Nazi war hero Fredrick Zoller(Daniel Brühl) is made into a national hero when Joseph Goebbels(Sylvester Groth) of the Nazi propaganda department decides to make a film on his exploits naming it , Nation’s Pride. Zoller in a chance meeting with Shosanna, who now owns a theater and goes by a different name, is smitten by her. He proposes, Goebbels to hold the premier of his film in Shosanna’s theater to which Goebbels responds affirmatively. This incident sparks off a chain of events which involves a small British unit to sneak into France to attend the premier and bomb the theater taking down with it the officers attending the premier. The Basterds are called into work as the failsafe for the plan. Shosanna, who comes face to face with her aggressor Hans Landa in a meeting, decides to burn down the theater herself using her nitrate film collection as she looks at it as a chance for her retribution.
If one looks at Tarantino’s film, one is bound to notice the immense importance and time he gives to dialogs. Be it Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs or for that matter, Inglorious Basterds, Dialogs between characters are his prime tool for building up tension and creating the drama. He also uses dramatic music effectively at key junctures to heighten the emotions. One exception that he does here is to induce patriotic music to Nazi characters as they are slain in a couple of scenes. Taking such heroic music and attributing it to the negative Nazi characters not only raises your eyebrows but also conveys a strange feeling which cannot be explained in words. The action and violence is graphic. A character is attributed a nickname plainly because of the way he kill his victims. Skulls are bashed, bones are smashed, bullets are let loose. Inglourious Basterds could be Tarantino’s most violent film till Django Unchained took a step further.
The film appears to be in the same chapter-ised forms as most Tarantino films. This again is a first time for a war film. Each of the chapters are given due time to develop. The chapters also keep going crisscross through each other giving you a feel of exhilarating excitement as you don’t know what is about to happen next and neither can you predict the same. The film also boasts of some scintillating performances. While Brad Pitt is the biggest star on the table, his thunder is effortlessly stolen by Christoph Waltz who plays the Nazi SS officer with such finesse and authority that he successfully belittles anyone sharing a frame with him. His character is also fleshed out really well and for that matter better than many others. Pitt essays a role which suits him well but ends up second best to Christoph Waltz. Mélanie Laurent is noticeably beautiful and she essays the character of Shosanna to perfection. August Diehl and Michael Fassbender have cameos which are of immense importance to the plot and they both do a job with their characters.
Quoting the great Roger Ebert, suffice is to say that Tarantino films have a way of growing on you. It’s not enough to see them once. A Tarantino film resists categorization. “Inglourious Basterds” is no more about war than “Pulp Fiction” is about — what the hell is it about? Of course nothing in the movie is possible, except that it’s so bloody entertaining. His actors don’t chew the scenery, but they lick it. He’s a master at bringing performances as far as they can go toward iconographic exaggeration. I loved it a little more everytime I say it and with the years passing by, I plan to see a lot many more times. If you haven’t already, I envy you since you still have this film to be enjoyed for the first time in your life. That’s saying a lot.