Nazis get their comeuppance, in brutal fashion
“Inglourious Basterds” has been a long time coming. Apparently conceived some 10 years ago, it remained a script undergoing revision in Tarantino’s head while he made the “Kill Bill” films and “Death Proof.” Now, almost six months after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and two months after it opened in American theaters, “Bastards: Nasty Guys,” as it’s called in Korean, has finally reached screens here.
“Once upon a time, in Nazi-occupied France,” a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as the Basterds, led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), are dropped behind enemy lines with a mission to brutalize German soldiers and strike fear into the heart of the Third Reich. Their name is well-earned: gratuitous-horror flick auteur Eli Roth plays a soldier dubbed “The Bear Jew,” infamous for beating Nazis to death with his baseball bat.
Meanwhile, in Paris, German soldier Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl, whom you might recognize from “Good Bye, Lenin!”) attempts to court the unbeknownst-to-him Jewish theater owner Shosanna (Melanie Laurent). Zoller just so happens to have some sway in the German film industry, led by Hitler’s No. 2 man and propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth). When it comes time to premiere the new film “Nation’s Pride,” Goebbels is persuaded to have the screening at Shoshanna’s cinema, an event that will be attended by the most senior Nazi leadership. Events transpire, leading Raine, the Bear Jew and the rest of the group to the premiere in a climax that’s as rousing as the Basterds are inglorious.
In an interview published in this newspaper last week, the director demurred to define “Tarantino-esque,” but the new film is unmistakably his. Basterds is broken up into six chapters featuring lengthy exchanges that are only tangential to the film’s story arc. Think Samuel L. Jackson talking about a Big Kahuna Burger in “Pulp Fiction,” or David Carradine’s speech about Superman in “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” except in Basterds, it’s often done in German.
Tarantino wisely cast numerous talented German-speaking actors, and the aforementioned Bruhl, as well as Michael Fassbender and August Diehl, all turn in performances that are, to say the least, sehr gut.
But most worthy of a mention is Christoph Waltz, who plays Nazi Col. Hans Landa, the “Jew Hunter,” and the film’s main antagonist. A pipe-smoking polyglot, Waltz switches from disarmingly charming to terrorizing in all of his scenes without ever having to raise his voice. He won at Cannes for his performance, and the suggestions that he’s worthy of an Oscar are not undeserved.
In fact, most of Tarantino’s Nazi characters are granted a similarly rich multidimensionality, and at times reveal traits including honor, humility and guilt. At the same time, the Basterds - despite Pitt’s fiendishly entertaining performance - lack any of these attributes. The film is about more than just “Nazi hunting,” and in that sense the tables are turned in more ways than one. This confounding nuance combined with vivid cinematography and snappy screenwriting make for a truly great cinematic experience, perhaps Tarantino’s best yet.
Drama, War / English, German, French
By Andrew Siddons [firstname.lastname@example.org]