The review of this film in Empire finishes by saying: With a confidence typical of its director, the last line of Inglourious Basterds is. “This might just be my masterpiece.” While that may not be true, this is an often dazzling movie that sees QT back on exhilarating form.
Whilst I agree the film has too many issues to be a true masterpiece there is enough going on to prove (to me) that we haven’t seen the best of Tarantino yet. Reservoir Dogs was a brilliant début, Pulp Fiction is a confident and first rate five star film (and my favourite of his films to date), Jackie Brown is his most accomplished and grownup film, Kill Bill and Death Proof demonstrate a new direction that although inferior to the earlier films are the first steps on a new path. Tarantino has always borrowed from other films and fused the elements together to create his own vision but this process appears to be getting more and more pronounced as he goes on. I truly believe that one day all these things will come together and create a seamless and sublime (but not subtle) masterpiece that will surpass all his past glories.
Now back to those Basterds. Anyone expecting an all action film will be disappointed, this movie is classic dialogue led Tarantino. Split into distinct chapters the first, subtitled “Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France” consists mainly of a conversation between “The Jew Hunter” Col. Hans Landa (Chistoph Waltz) and a diary farmer suspected of hiding a Jewish family. The scene demonstrates a point I think the director is trying to make. There have been a lot of films, Valkyrie for example that loses some of their impact because the main (German in this case) characters speak English with their own accents when German would have made for a better film. In Inglourious Basterds it isn’t enough for all the main characters to speak most of their lines in their own language, it is emphasized by a wonderfully cheesy and contrived moment when Col. Landa asks the farmer if he minds talking in English as he has limited French. The subject comes up again in a laugh out loud scene when Brad Pitts Lt. Aldo Raine attempts to impersonate an Italian with (very) limited Italian and his own stong Tennessee accent. In an earlier scene a British agents German accent is questioned making you immediately wonder why this doesn’t happen more often in films. This is so much more than a joke or piss take at the expense of other films. It rips to the core of Hollywood attitudes and even to those of English speaking people (mainly British and American). I doubt that it will cause film makers to rethink the use of languages in films or make more film goers watch subtitled films. It is however a point that should have been made long ago and in true Tarantino style he doesn’t make it in an interview but he uses his own medium, cinema. It isn’t subtle but it is certainly clever, far more so than it is likely to be given credit for.
Tarantino has described the film as a spaghetti-western set in Nazi Occupied France. Although the themes of revenge and betrayal are present the film offers so much more. The filming style of each chapter is subtly but noticeably different. It is as if we jump between German, French and various styles of Hollywood films. There are also references to the Leni Riefenstahl mountain movies and Joseph Goebbel’s role as head of Nazi Propaganda. Add all this to the film related final chapter (I won’t give it away) this is a film about the power of cinema and film. Again it isn’t subtle but Tarantio has proved he has something to say. The historical inaccuracies are also an interesting subject. Films particularly Hollywood have for years subscribed to the idiom “don’t let the facts interfere with a good story”. Not only is the outrageously bold ending no more a liberty than any other historical inaccuracy such as films like U-571 and Saving Private Ryan but it is also a beacon to the issue. A talking point like this holds a mirror up to cinema that will create something that will be talked about for years. So in conclusion we have a film that is both a war film and a satire on war films, a drama, a comedy and a spaghetti western but most importantly it is a movie for people who love movies.
So the big question, is it any good? Simply it is brilliant. Once you get over the fact that it is a fantasy (not a great stretch in a film that starts “Once upon a time”) you are free to enjoy the film as a beautifully shot, intelligently conceived and superbly acted. It is no wonder the Daily Mail hates it. They just don’t get it!
For a great interview with QT take a look at this by Kim Morgan.