Classics Revisited – Inglourious Basterds Movie Review

The quirky dialogues are vintage Quentin Tarantino and the film keeps getting funnier (read- wackier) as we move towards the end

"You don't have to know how to make a movie. If you truly love cinema with all your heart and with enough passion, you can't help but make a good movie." – Quentin Tarantino

There is this particularly tense moment at an upscale French restaurant set in the 1940s – an unanticipated meeting between Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish movie theatre owner looking to seek revenge for her family's massacre, and Colonel Hans Landa (an Oscar deserving Christoph Waltz), the treacherous yet cunningly brilliant Nazi mercenary who executed the very gruesome task. The unnerving anxiety and fear at the dinner table is palpable and it is left to Shosanna's (and the audience's) imagination to figure out whether Landa is playing the fool and is aware of her identity as the escapee of the mass murder he ordered a few years ago. Shosanna breaking away from character (a moving performance by Laurent) immediately after Landa leaves the table only adds to Landa's aura. It is a shame though, that Landa leaves without finishing the delicious strudel probably letting us know that the whole exercise was only a facade to interrogate her.

Tarantino's mastery over his craft is at full display here, as he uses this gastronomic cinematic device, coupled with excellent sound design, to great effect. The use of this tool can be traced in many of his works. Recall how Dr. King Schultz (another Oscar-winning performance by Christoph Waltz), in a thirst-inducing scene from Django Unchained (2012), pours himself and Django (Jaime Foxx) two freshly brewed mugs of tap beer at an old tavern, or how Jules (Samuel Jackson) from Pulp Fiction (1994) convinced us that a combination of a Big Kahuna burger and Sprite truly represents the cornerstone-of-a-nutritious-breakfast.

Inglourious Basterds, deliberately misspelled, is unlike his previous movies (Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2(2003–04), Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction) and plays sequentially through five chapters all leading towards a single goal- to eliminate the Nazi top brass attending the premiere of a German war propaganda movie in Parisian theatre. 

The film opens on a picturesque dairy farm in France, where the farm owner, Perrier LaPadite (Denis Ménochet) and his daughters are paid an unwelcome visit by a Nazi detective, Landa, who is in search of a seemingly untraceable Jewish family. The haunting background score, used brilliantly throughout the movie sets the tone that this is no ordinary visit. The chilling and now iconic interrogation scene which plays out next is a testament to Waltz's acting prowess and linguistic dexterity as Landa cuts a deal with LaPadite to unearth the whereabouts of the Jewish family in exchange for sparing his family's lives. Shosanna narrowly escapes from the farm to Paris, where four years later, she ends up as a movie theatre owner living under an assumed name "Emmanuelle"  and supported by her boyfriend, Marcel (Jacky Ido). She happens to meet a German war hero, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), the lead actor of a propaganda movie (Nation's Pride), who falls for her and promptly re-schedules the premiere at her theatre.

In a parallel track, the relatively weaker one compared with Shosanna's and Landa's, we are introduced to the Inglourious Basterds, a US army unit led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). Known for their gruesome handling of their captives, the Basterds are recruited by British intelligence to carry out a covert operation to assassinate the Nazi leadership at the same movie premiere scheduled at Shosanna's theatre. Raine gets support from Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender, who lost out on playing on Landa's part for real!), a British agent and Bridgetvon Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a popular German actress and a double agent supporting the Allies in the war.

These two separate tracks (Shosanna's and the Basterds') converge into an hastily put yet audacious climax which ties all ends albeit with the adequate dose of dead bodies, that we have come to expect from Tarantino films.

Even though the title of the movie may state otherwise, it is Shosanna and Landa who are the key drivers of the movie, building the narrative and keeping us engaged through the end. Christoph Waltz, the true hero of the film, is menacing as the"Jew Hunter", a moniker he chooses to use depending on the company he keeps.Waltz lights up every scene with his charming and equally menacing presence and worthy of the Oscar and the multiple accolades that he has received. Tarantino mentioned in one of his interviews that casting for Landa was the toughest and he had thoughts of dropping the project all together!

Tarantino has truly succeeded (as always) in getting the cast right for this movie (I do have reservations about Brad Pitt's casting though) peppered with amazing guest appearances (Mike Meyers!) and great set of local actors (not stars) who just felt right for their respective parts.

Inglourious Basterds, in my humble view, is Tarantino's best work till date and my personal favorite given how well all the moving pieces (read- chapters and characters) culminating into a very satisfying ending altering the course of history in a parallel universe. The quirky dialogues are vintage Tarantino and film keeps getting funnier (read- wackier) as we move towards the end. The film received criticism at the time of its release (in 2009) for tampering with history and specifically with its climax but I feel the film has aged well and its strength lies in its out of the box the theme. Tarantino has often referred to the revisionist history theme as not a fantasy but how history would have played out in case these characters actually existed!

This movie marked the beginning of the Tarantino's set of revisionist history trilogy, starting with Basterds, followed by Django Unchained and ending with the most recent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). Known for creating a cinematic universe with the same set of characters (recall the Vega Brothers from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction), I wonder how many caught the common link between Hollywood and Basterds where Di Caprio's character Rick Dalton acts in an Italian movie (movie within a movie) directed by "Antonio Margheriti" while Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz (Eli Roth) poses as the Italian director Antonio Margheriti in what is one of the funniest scenes in Basterds

As Aldo Raine carves out a swastika on the forehead of a Nazi, calling it his masterpiece, it appears that it is Tarantino who speaking to the audience,which in a way is pretty smug and quite accurate! I would highly recommended this movie to anyone who would want to get introduced to Tarantino's world of magical cinema and hop on this thrilling ride!

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