The Basterdization of World History
Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent
By Robert Patrick
By this time you’re probably well acquainted with the Basterds; commercials have been slashing past you, with indocility to volume and aesthetic, every time you pop a bowl of oatmeal into your microwave, turn on the television, and wake up in the morning. The legion of marketers are spinning the advertisements with the rapidness of a drum roll, while fans are talking about the plotline between college classes. But how is the movie? It’s great, I’m afraid. Leave it to the stylistically overcharged Quentin Tarantino to lob cream pies at historical tyranny. Inglourious Basterds is pure debauchery, with enough bloodshed, hearty dialogue, and slick camerawork to crack some pretty vigilante-like smiles from its audience. Only Tarantino would name drop Ted Williams during the pumpkin smashing of someone’s skull. The whole film is an onslaught of perpetual destruction.
As you are aware of, the Inglourious Basterds are a unit assembled for the sole purpose of spreading as much fear into Nazi Germany as possible. Made up of Jewish soldiers, the squad is led by the syrupy drawl of Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). The group, like some sort of disgruntled malformation of the Dirty Dozen, binds the teeth-grinding bandits together, enabling them to gleefully scalp, carve, and bash in as many German domes as possible. “We’re in the business of killin’ Nazi’s,” Raine professes, with his voice sounding like a dinged up, out of tune harmonica. “And the business is boomin’.”
The Basterds are injecting fear into the veins of a withering Europe, so full of fatigue and mistreatment that the land is on its deathbed. Even Hitler, in his animated tantrums, wags his finger, calling for the capture of Raine’s outlaws. The flailing dictator has the disposition of Wile E. Coyote, as he tries everything but dropping an anvil on the Basterds. Tarantino loves jostling his film with sardonic material, and it’s fun to watch on this kind of epic scale. The introduction of the Basterds is something that Tarantino, in all of his incessant gabbing and vocal hiccupping, was probably excited to showcase on the big screen. For some of the character intros you’ll see text bubble up, hovering over the actor in question, telling the audience who he is, and what you should be prepared for. The red carpet is really rolled out for the snarling commandos, as Ennio Morricone’s score waltzes over the scenes, jingling like an old pair of spurs. Later, we’re shown a man, simply known as “The Bear Jew”, who punches through German skulls with a Louisville slugger; he creates tension, before the walloping of timber against bone, by rattling his bat against walls. The whole scenario makes you want to bite your tongue to prevent yourself from laughing. Tarantino’s morbid freak show induces a sort outrageousness that may cause you to buckle under its unyielding audacity.
But the title of Inglourious Basterds is a sort of mulligan, as it’s really about a young lady’s journey to enact revenge, not about the marred military outfit it professes to be about in the trailers. The film is about Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a young woman who witnessed her family’s murder by the hands of Nazis. Now in her late teens, the doe-eyed Shosanna, button nosed and bow-lipped, looks as harmless as a wounded dove. Completely blended into the world around her, no one has even an inkling of suspicion concerning her past; in fact, she even owns a movie theatre where she plays popular German mountain movies. Much to her chagrin, this is where a young German war hero begins courting her. The mercurial soldier has the gawky demeanor of a schoolboy with flushed cheeks; he stands awkwardly and coyly bats down Shosanna’s rejections with naiveté and equal parts determination. Unbeknownst to Shosanna, however, is that the annoying German boy, here presenting himself with a halo of modesty, is about to lead her to the same Nazi officer who mowed down her family half a decade ago.
Here, in Tarantino’s grandiose affinity for female reparation – anyone recall Kill Bill and Death Proof? – the director unsheathes Shosanna’s once dormant rage, catapulting her into a colossal plot that would make the would be assassins in Valkyrie blush. To say anymore about the nefarious plan would give too much away, but it’s safe to say that Shosanna wears her makeup like vindictive war paint; ruffles the eagle’s feathers on Germany’s coat of arms; and looks snappy doing it.
The Basterds, meanwhile, are poking around behind enemy lines, preparing for the eradication of the abominable Adolph Hitler. The volatile stories involving Shosanna and the Basterds meet, of course, in a finale that isn’t particularly atypical of Tarantino’s blood letting and valve-spurting climaxes. And, along with many of the much heralded director’s work, Inglourious Basterds isn’t ever skittish with its wonky dialogue. And despite the clever one-liners zipping out of the mouths of the cast, there is some great dramatic exchanges going on.. The acting is spectacular for the most part, with Christoph Waltz, playing the movie’s lead antagonist, Hans Landa, being the most phenomenal. The entire movie is a big, zany, pulpy mess that is impossible to be filtered into a smooth, shoot-by-numbers war film. And with pop culture pushing Nazi bashing in videogames and war films in front of young adults, much like a keychain in front of a toddler, people will eat up this revisionist history. But is the film Tarantino’s ninth symphony? Probably not. The band leader is much too excitable to hold his baton in the correct location too long before dropping it. But the film is a wonderful, apocalyptic, smirk gathering night out at the theatre. I couldn’t really recommend it more.