Thanks to my dear Father's passion and enthusiasm for the subject, I have seen a lot of World War II documentaries and films in my time on this earth. Some considered to be epic (I.e. Saving Private Ryan), some considered to be iconic (I.e. The Longest Day and the BBC documentary The World At War) and others sometimes to be considered hilarious pending on the context (i.e. Kelly's Heroes) but I am indeed stumped to find a World War II film that is entirely fictional in a historical sense (except perhaps Churchill: The Hollywood Years, but lets not speak of such nonsense). That is until Mr. Quentin Tarantino made his Inglourious Basterds (spelling mistakes aside for a second...), which as some might know, is a film that has been roughly 10 years in the making for the infamous director, involving numerous script rewrites, several changes to the lead cast and also Tarantino opting to do two other films in-between in "mental preparation" for the task that was upon him. Much to my delight and surprise it actually did not disappoint.
The story itself consists of two separate narratives converging on each other for the film's climax, the first being the tale of a Jewish girl, Shosanna Dreyfus (played by the beautiful French actress Mélanie Laurent), as she goes on the run from Hans Landa, aka The Jew Hunter, after her family were slaughtered right in front of her. After four years of running she comes to work in a cinema in Paris and through a series of events is given a chance to plot vengeance on the people who killed her family. The second narrative of the film is, of course, as the title of the movie suggests, the antics of a suicidal, homicidal band of American (Jewish) soldiers known as "The Basterds" led by 1st Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and also featured a homicidal German in their ranks by the name of Hugo Stiglitz and Staff Sergeant Donny Donowitz aka "The Bear Jew" (played by rising Horror director and directed the "film within the film", dear friend of Tarantino, Eli Roth).
Upon watching the trailer a few months previously I was a little worried the film would of been just two mindless hours of Pitt and his war buddies blowing the shit out of Nazis but I felt that Tarrentino was quite smart in how in handled the marketing of this film, portraying it as a WWII B-Movie full of unadulterated violence (and do not get me wrong there was a lot of violence), but actually shifting more focus towards the story involving Laurent's character which, felt more like the real story being told here and the one that the audience could properly engage with. Though Laurent's performance was marvellous, nothing could quite match Christoph Waltz' completely eccentric and over the top Jew Hunter, Col. Hans Landa who was equally comical and flamboyant as he was darkly sinister (deservedly picking up a Best Actor award for his performance at this year's Cannes). Combined with support slots from some of the hardest working actors in World Cinema such as Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Daniel Bruhl and even a bizarre cameo from Mike Myers, personally made Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino's most classy ensemble piece since Pulp Fiction.
Noticeably since his 1997 hit Jackie Brown there was been a more refined and distinct change in Tarantino's directorial style, comparable more to his two part epic Kill Bill than his earlier gangster films, Inglorious Basterds pays homage to the director's love for old school Western films by the likes of Sergio Leone and Don Siegel as much as it does World War II dramas, directly referencing the likes of Eastwood's Kelly's Heroes, The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare to name but a few. Shooting in Europe for the first time (if I am not mistaken?) the cinematography was absolutely beautiful from Robert Richardson (long time Scorsese and Stone collaborator as well as serving on Kill Bill 1 & 2) and in true Tarantino fashion the soundtrack was not composed but pieced together from various films within the relating genres, such as Slaughter, Zulu Dawn, Blood For A Silver Dollar, Eastern Condors as well as other films that hardly any casual film goer has most likely seen before. Faults? Strangely I am at a loss on this one to find many, I can understand if people think the climax is complete tosh on the basis of how historically inaccurate it is, but can you honestly say you were surprised based on the director's previous films? Perhaps one negative aspect of the film was that some parts felt slightly under developed such as the title characters story which, was not nearly as interesting and engaging (though still highly entertaining) as the revenge plot of Dreyfus in her gorgeous Parisian cinema. It all begs the thought that the director will most likely put out a director's cut of the feature upon its DVD/Blu-ray release later in the year which would certainly be an interesting experience.
Miles more entertaining and well imagined than both Kill Bills and Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds is without a doubt Tarantino's best film in years. With genuinely fantastic performances from Waltz, Laurent and Kruger as well as a solid backbone of the likes of Pitt, Fassbender, Bruhl and even Roth combined with some wonderful dialogue, typical tongue and cheek situations, ultra violent shoot-outs and an emotionally explosive climax. Lacking in epic scale it makes up for in sheer style and passion. This is not a historically accurate account of events, but when the film was directed by the man in question, did you really expect it to be? In some cases a director can be condemned for such actions but in Quentin Tarantino's case he shows time and time again how much he genuinely cares about the films he makes which I always found to be one of is most endearing qualities, and this is no different. Welcome back QT, though were you ever really away? Could very well make my top 10 by year's end. Go see now!
See this if you like...
Kelly's Heroes, Where Eagles Dare, Dirty Dozen and most Spaghetti Western films.
Inglourious Basterds is in all cinemas from Wednesday 19th August and also marks the 40th film reviewed on the blog! Woohoo!