Inglourious Basterds: Putting Out Fire

A BASTERD’S WORK IS NEVER DONE.

inglouriousbasterdsQuentin Tarantino loves crappy B movies, especially if they were made with a sense of humor and by a filmmaker who had at least some sense of style. He’s built his entire career on this infatuation, but one thing has always been clear – Tarantino is considerably more gifted than many of the hacks he admires. He spent years dreaming of making this film, then got one of Hollywood’s biggest stars drunk one night and made him agree to star in it, and finally delivered a highly-anticipated feature that had critics at the Cannes festival applauding his effort. Tarantino is anything but a low-budget filmmaker… but he’s never betrayed what he considers his heritage.

The story begins in the French countryside during WWII where we are introduced to the SS officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), nicknamed “The Jew Hunter”. He’s found another family of Jews in hiding, the Dreyfus’s, but the oldest daughter, Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), escapes. A few years later, Shosanna has created a new identity working as the manager of a movie theater in Paris. She’s courted by a young German soldier, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), who stars in a new movie as the Teutonic equivalent of Sergeant York. Although Shosanna is not interested in dating him, she spots an opportunity for revenge when he tells her that Joseph Goebbels wishes to gather Hitler and the entire German leadership in her theater for the premiere screening of Zoller’s propaganda piece.

Meanwhile, the Americans have put together an elite group of soldiers who are all Jews, commandeered by the ruthless Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt); their only mission is to kill as many Nazis in France as possible.

Bits and pieces more brilliant than the whole
There were several times during the press screening of this film where I wondered where Tarantino was going. The dialogue is not at all as memorable as in some of his earlier work; we all know what the long, talkative sequences will end up in (a bloody showdown) and even though some of those moments are fascinating it has more to do with the acting than Tarantino’s writing. Waltz is absolutely brilliant as Hans Landa, perfectly embodying the concept of the intelligent, clever but thoroughly evil SS officer; just watch him interrogate Shosanna and eat strudel at the same time. Laurent and Michael Fassbender are very good in their parts, but movie stars like Pitt and Mike Myers also deliver. The former takes some time getting used to as the gung-ho Tennessean but he eventually succeeds; the latter is dressed-up and made-up as a British general but thankfully avoids turning the performance into something along the lines of Austin Powers.

The story is a Jewish revenge fantasy that frequently entertains, at least to those who can take the sadistic mayhem. Divided into chapters, the film has been described by Tarantino as a spaghetti western in Nazi-occupied France; the concept is evident throughout the film, although bits and pieces are more brilliant than the final result as a whole.

The movie made me flinch, laugh and shake my head in disbelief. Tarantino considers it damned near his masterpiece. I can’t agree, but neither can I resist a movie that plays David Bowie’s “Putting Out Fire” as we see the leaders of the Third Reich prepare to meet their destiny.

Inglourious Basterds 2009-U.S.-Germany. 153 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Lawrence Bender. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Cinematography: Robert Richardson. Cast: Brad Pitt (Aldo Raine), Mélanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus), Christoph Waltz (Hans Landa), Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger… Mike Myers, Rod Taylor, Bo Svenson. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.

Trivia: Inspired by (but not a remake of) The Inglorious Bastards (1978). Tom Tykwer translated some of the dialogue into German. Adam Sandler, Isabelle Huppert, Nastassja Kinski, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth were allegedly considered for parts. Taylor’s last film. 

Oscar: Best Supporting Actor (Waltz). BAFTA: Best Supporting Actor (Waltz). Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor (Waltz). Cannes: Best Actor (Waltz).

Quote: “Nazis ain’t got no humanity! They need to be destroyed. Each and every man under my command owns me one hundred Nazi scalps… and I want my scalps!” (Pitt to his men)

Last word: “On this movie there’s one real big roadblock, and that’s history itself. And I expected to honour that roadblock. But then at some point, deep, deep, deep into writing it, it hit me. I thought, Wait a minute: my characters don’t know they’re part of history. They’re in the immediate, they’re in the here, they’re in the now, this is happening. Any minute, they’re dead. And you know what? What happens in this movie didn’t happen in real life because my characters didn’t exist. But if they had, this could have happened in real life. And from that point on, it simply had to be plausible, and I had to be able to pull it off.” (Tarantino, Rotten Tomatoes)

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