Off the top of your head, which American writer/director is most likely to make a comedy about killing Nazis? Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, Inglourious Basterds tells the tale of a vigilante group sponsored by the military out to kill Nazis in France. Meanwhile, a French-Jewish young woman who survived her family’s murder by a Nazi officer is running a movie theater she inherited when the Germans impose upon her to host a premier of a Nazi propaganda film. She hatches a plan to get revenge. Like most Tarantino films, the stories intersect for a creative climax and conclusion.
The movie plays with conventions of WWII film; there are the gorgeous women involved in resistance plots, mysteries of identity, torn families, and thwarted leaders. This all, of course, is treated to the Tarantino spin and comes out as something sort of clever and sort of new.
Normally, I have trouble engaging with Tarantino’s movies. People in his films seem to be so expendable that the characters hardly seem worth remembering. This movie was a different experience for me. No matter how off-putting I found the use of violence, I still wanted to see how the story was resolved. I also thought the characters were more fully developed than in his previous work. While the leader of the Basterds, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), is certainly an interesting character, I was most intrigued by the young cinema owner, Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent). As a villain, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) is both well-mannered and creepy, a character who is interesting to watch in action.
Quentin Tarantino seems to be a really hip guy to like these days. His movies become cult classics nearly instantly. I can’t help but feel, however, that there is something very wrong with how violent his movies are. Especially movies like Inglourious Basterds, comedies in which violence and humor are intermingled. A friend of mine suggested that Tarantino is satirizing the use of violence in entertainment, but also pointed out that in doing so (if that is even his intent), and being so successful making hyper-violent movies, he is essentially complicit in the glorification of violence. There are moments in Inglourious Basterdswhen it seems like Tarantino is reflecting on the violence of his own work. Certainly choosing a subject matter like Nazi-occupied France could lend itself to rethinking the violence he uses, or taking it in another direction. At times I felt like Tarantino was actually pointing out just how awful the violence really is, but these instances are brief and far between, and usually followed by an especially gory scene. Maybe it’s not time for the maturation of Quentin Tarantino just yet. We can hope.
Inglourious Basterds is a movie that stuck with me. The moments that bothered me became topics of conversation. Brad Pitt’s one-liners have been quoted to me frequently. Blood aside, the visuals were enjoyably memorable. The rich texture of the scenes at Shosanna’s movie theater, and a particularly well-played scene in an obscure bar was so layered with character, plot, and setting, it’s worth turning over again in my memory.
Nevertheless, I am torn about my rating for this movie. On the one hand, I think this is by far the best Quentin Tarantino movie to date. The plot is very compelling, the pacing is seamless, and the cinematography is both beautiful and edgy. The acting in the movie is outstanding. On the other hand, the mixture of violence and comedy is especially offensive (to put it mildly) and I was disappointed that the self-reflective moments were just passing shadows. So, I am rating it three stars because the quality is strong even if the taste is questionable at best.
Inglourious Basterds runs 153 minutes and is rated R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality.