Inglourious Basterds is a masterwork from director Quentin Tarantino, another fine film in his impressive line of crazed, brilliant movies. Whether or not you like the guy, there is no denying that his films and his style are his, and his alone. While many have tried to copy him, nobody does Tarantino like Tarantino, and Basterds is one of his best.
This World War II action drama has kicked around in Tarantino's head for years. Adam Sandler, Simon Pegg, Leonardo DiCaprio and even Eddie Murphy had all been rumored for parts at one time or another, but in the end, Tarantino wound up with a guy named Brad Pitt to anchor the project. As Lt. Aldo Raine—whose face is permanently contorted, and his neck scarred, from what was likely a lynching experience—Pitt is explosively fierce and funny.
Raine commands "The Basterds," a salty, perturbed group of Jewish-American soldiers on a mission to gather 100 Nazi scalps apiece. Chief among the group is Sgt. Donny Donowitz, played by Hostel director Eli Roth. Donowitz, "The Bear Jew," is the guy Raine calls in when Nazis choose death over revealing secrets. He swings a mighty bat and compares his head-swatting prowess to the skills of the great Ted Williams. Apparently, Sandler (who had a schedule conflict) was Tarantino's original choice for Donowitz, but Roth makes the role his own.
Divided into five parts, the film starts off with a little ditty called "Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France," where we are introduced to notorious Jew hunter Col. Hans Landa. As played by Christoph Waltz, Landa is an all-time-great cinematic weasel. Every time the man speaks, in whichever language he chooses, the stomach turns. He is the ultimate personification of a Nazi, the rankest, most vile form of human being to ever walk the Earth. Don't be surprised if Waltz gets some Oscar consideration. I, for one, will be pissed if he doesn't.
Characters from the first story play large parts in other segments, including Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), proprietor of a movie theater in Paris. Her theater is patronized by Nazi hero and film star Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), who supposedly killed hundreds of soldiers with one sniper rifle. Her theater plays a big part in the film's final segment, featuring Tarantino's violently playful rewrite of history.
Dramatic films involving historic figures like Adolf Hitler usually play by the book and follow events faithfully. Well, the rules of historical fact do not apply to Tarantino, who comes up with his own conclusion for the Third Reich. I've probably said this before: Tarantino is totally nuts, and that's a blessing to filmdom. Predictability goes out the window, accompanied by a hail of machine-gunfire and burning celluloid.
There are so many moments in this film when my face hurt from smiling so hard. Pitt's murdering of the Italian language near the film's end, Roth's face when he sees Hitler, and Waltz's repugnant request for a glass of milk are standouts. I could probably list 100 more.
I have been following the development of this project for years. Based on the buzz, I was expecting something like The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone, but the resultant insanity defies categorization. Leave it to Tarantino to work surf rock and David Bowie songs into a World War II movie.
For those of us who detest filmmakers who paint by the numbers, Tarantino is something akin to Picasso. I wouldn't be surprised if he wound up missing an ear in a padded room and wearing a straitjacket someday, writing his scripts with a pen clenched in his teeth.
As somebody who watches a lot of movies, I feel an immense wave of gratitude during and after a Tarantino film. The man sets out to give his audience unique film experiences, and he always succeeds.