So the first stop in my Tarantino quest has lead me to 2009’s Inglorious Basterds. Comparing it to Django I’d have to say it was the same and opposite at the same time, which I realize doesn’t make any sense but just hear me out. So with Django I was totally in to it at the beginning and then my enthusiasm waned as the movie progressed, but with Basterds it started out kind of weak from my standpoint but about half way through I was in love with the film. I hope once I get to his other films in the future that I can just love them all the way through. That would be lovely.
So “once upon a time in Nazi occupied France,” there is a family of Jews, the Dreyfuses, hiding out in their neighbor’s basement. One day, Colonel Hans “The Jew Hunter” Landa (Christoph Waltz) shows up to search the house, and finds them just by talking to the guy that owns it. He kills all of them except one, Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), who escapes to Paris and operates a cinema under an assumed name. Later, she gets a great opportunity to use her cinema to undermine the Nazi war effort and doesn’t hesitate to take it.
Meanwhile, a group of Jewish-American soldiers called “The Basterds” rampage around France killing and scalping almost every Nazi they come into contact with. The leader, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) demands 100 Nazi scalps from each soldier. Those they don’t scalp get a swastika scratched onto their foreheads so everybody that ever meets them will know what they did; they are forever labelled as a Nazi. People get labelled in this movie a lot and no matter what they go through the characters can never really seem to escape their classification, which really started depressing me after awhile. Though Raine occasionally said some funny stuff, for the first half I was not a big fan of these guys. I mean, I understand that they don’t like Nazis, I mean who does, but from a moral standpoint the Nazis they ran into were looking pretty sympathetic, especially because they always lost. If they were somehow breaking people out of concentration camps while killing Nazis in the process, I would have been way more okay with them. They were just killing Nazis though, as was their stated sole purpose.
Within the first half we’ve also established that Shosanna’s cinema is going to be hosting the premiere of the latest Nazi propaganda film Nation’s Pride. The star of the film has got the hots for her, so he arranged it. All of these evil high-up Nazi officials are going to be there, and eventually even Hitler decides he better show up. Shosanna makes a plan with her projectionist boyfriend to blow up the cinema with all the bad guys inside, but she’s not the only one with a plan. Up until this point, I was just kind of going along with the film. I was enjoying it, with some moral reservations, but for the most part I was just sort of going along. But then Tarantino introduced some British people, which of course makes everything better. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: “They made war look stylish, reasonable, and fun!” Well, not quite, but the idea remains that they made the movie for me go from decent to fantastic in the space of about five seconds.
The Brits have developed Operation Kino, which coincidentally is a lot like Shosanna’s plan. They’re going to send in Lt. Archie Hicox (Micheal Fassbender) to meet their contact, a German actress named Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), who will get Hicox and the Basterds into the premiere to blow it up. Also, since the venue’s been changed to a smaller theater, they have extra explosives. Add that to what Shoshanna already has and you got one heck of an assassination plot. Of course, the two groups don’t know about the other, but in the end this does not really turn out to be overkill at all. Unfortunately, the meeting with von Hammersmark doesn’t really go as planned and the Brits vanish as quickly as they appeared. Alas! But never fear, the focus in the narrative is really what turns the movie around. The Basterds are way more likable from my standpoint when they have a more focused objective, and one that will actually accomplish something immediate.
So Operation Kino does not go exactly as planned, unfortunately, but the final scenes are both tense and hilarious. All I’m going to say on the subject is don’t forget about Landa, even though I haven’t talked about him in awhile he is definitely still there and what he does is pretty fantastic. Even though he was technically an evil Nazi, I got pretty attached to him. He was pretty darn funny and also very smart, so I had to kind of admire the guy in a weird sort of way. For those who have already seen it, I was pretty devastated by the final scene and I couldn’t even watch it. I literally closed my laptop screen, so I guess I have finally found the limit to the violence I can watch. I suppose it doesn’t matter what it is, so much as who it’s done too.
So now for the references. Well, I actually only noticed two but because they’re from a film I love a lot I’m going to devote a whole paragraph to them. The most obvious one was when the Brits came into the picture. When explaining Operation Kino, one of them puts the situation of having all the high ranking Germans in one place exactly how the Luftwaffe commander in The Great Escape puts the situation of having all of the escape artists in one place: “all of our rotten eggs in one basket.” That’s a direct quote, my friend! The other reference actually had a bit more meaning from my standpoint, and it’s that one of the Nazis that the Basterds came upon was named Werner, which is also the name of the most sympathetic Nazi character ever who is from, yep you guessed it, The Great Escape. The Great Escape Werner can basically be summed up with this one line: “then they abolished scouting and sent me into the Hitler Youth instead.” He says it in such a pathetic way that you can’t help feel sorry for this awkward kid who just go caught up in the war. So when this other Nazi named Werner shows up in Inglourious Basterds and he seems like an okay guy and about to die, I don’t feel too friendly towards the Basterds. In Basterds, Werner seemed pretty honorable; he was willing to die for his country and of course the Basterds didn’t mind helping him out with it. A lot of Nazis in this movie were just throw away redshirts, but this guy wasn’t so I was a bit sad when he bought it. Maybe this is just another guy named Werner, but that’s immediately where my mind went and that’s how it affected me.
A lot of the characters from this film were very memorable: my favorite by far was Hans Landa but coming up second is Archie Hicox. If Hicox had been in the film longer he may have given Landa a run for his money, but as it was he was only in like three scenes so I was almost starting to forget him by the end of the film. I wish he had been in it longer, because he was really funny and made even funnier by the fact that he was British. Aldo Raine and the rest of the Basterds kind of grew on me as time went on, but then in the very final scene any slack I was willing to cut Raine due to his humorous accent and attempts to speak Italian was pretty much thrown out the window because of what he did right then. I will admit that the montage where they introduce Stiglitz was pretty hilarious though, plus his name’s just kind of funny anyway so I kind of liked him. The only really weak character, and by weak I mean bland not unlikable, was Shosanna. There were some touching moments with the projectionist boyfriend but for the most part whenever she came on I wanted to get back to more interesting people. Also as a fun casting note, Harvey Keitel and Samuel L. Jackson had some small voice over parts that I freaked out about when they came on (at least I’m 99% sure it was them).
So in the end, I loved Inglourious Basterds. Even though at the beginning I was having some moral issues with what was going on, strangely, by the end I was on board with movie as it moved past the exposition and characterization and got into the Operation Kino portion of the film. It turned out to be a lot of fun with some really memorable characters. I’m not sure if I like it better than Django or not; I’d have to see Django again to decide. They are pretty similar in their themes of rewriting history, so that’s why I decided to watch Basterds before Tarantino’s other films. I will be getting to more of them, if not all, so stay tuned!
Long story short: 4/4 stars