I have to admit that I've not always been the biggest fan of everything that Quentin Tarantino has released; but I have always admired the man both for making exactly the films he wants, and for trying his hand at different genres. World War II was not the obvious place to go, and it becomes even less obvious when you take out any ties to actual history and replace it with a black comic surreal style that is fleshed out with absurd characters and intense violence; but Tarantino has done just that, and for me has masterminded the best film of his career! Tarantino himself calls this a 'men on a mission' film, but really it's much more than that and the film would better be described as a World War II themed ensemble. The bulk of the film takes place in 1944 and the stage is set in Nazi-occupied France. A group of Jewish-American soldiers nicknamed 'The Basterds' have been dropped into enemy territory in order to hunt down and kill as many Nazi's as possible - a task they carry out with relish. Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Nazi's are holding a film premiere in a small theatre in France owned by a Nazi hating French-Jewish girl. Naturally, the Basterds soon take an interest in the event - since every major Nazi will be in attendance - but their plans to spoil the Third Reich's evening coincides with those of the theatre owner...who has a revenge of her own in mind.
Like most of Tarantino's films, this one is executed in chapters - there are five of them and they all follow in chronological order. Each chapter has a distinct style and purpose and in fact each one could almost be a film within itself. Tarantino sets the benchmark immediately with the first scene - an intense sequence that sees ruthless SS Officer Hans Landa turn up at the house of a French farmer whom he suspects of hiding Jews. This scene is unbelievably intense; Tarantino expertly builds the pressure throughout the scene until it finally reaches boiling point in spectacular fashion. That's basically the crux of the film; each sequence featured is completely gripping and intense, and this makes the two and a half hour running time fly by. The film is peppered with Tarantino's trademark sharp dialogue, (which is featured in English, French, German and Italian!) and it is unbelievably good - almost every line uttered is infinitely quotable, and each of the conversations between the many characters is interesting in its own right. Every scene appears to have been meticulously planned to the finest detail – and there honestly isn't one moment in the entire film that isn't extremely well done. I'm also amazed at how funny the film is – several sequences in this film wouldn't be out of place in a comedy, and yet they blend seamlessly with the intensity and violence on show elsewhere.
Throughout his career, Tarantino has excelled at casting the right people for the right roles; and Inglourious Basterds is another success on that front. Brad Pitt is the biggest star name in the cast, his Lieutenant Aldo Raine is a gloriously over the top stereotype and Pitt pins down the role fabulously. However, it is in fact Austrian actor Christophe Waltz who comes out of the film with the most praise; his subtly psychotic portrayal of SS Officer Hans Landa is absolutely brilliant and will surely go down as one of cinema's great villains. The mesmeric French actress Mélanie Laurent also stands out (both for her beauty and acting), and there's also memorable roles for Michael Fassbender, Til Schweiger (his awesomely cool character doesn't feature enough!), Diane Kruger and Hostel director Eli Roth, who gives a surprisingly effective performance as a baseball bat wielding lunatic nicknamed "The Bear Jew". All of the central characters are very well written and Tarantino excels at getting the point of all of them across, even though the screen time is generously shared between them all.
Rumour has it that Inglourious Basterds was ten years in the making, and I can say that the wait was worth it! I really am struggling to comprehend just how amazingly brilliant this film is. Tarantino has made a movie the likes of which has never been seen before, and if a better movie than this one is released in my lifetime, I will be surprised.
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