Inglorious Basterds. 2009. Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent. 2 hrs., 33 mins.
Tarantino’s typically over-the-top and gory, yet quite entertaining wish-fulfillment vision of how World War Two should’ve ended is long and episodic, yet also so fast-paced and (yes) accomplished that one doesn’t mind the epic length.
You see all of the writer-director’s trademark attributes: violent and graphic violence, paired with genuine suspense, some flashes of moderately-to-seriously sick humor, and machine-gun bursts of sharp, even lacerating dialogue. Tarantino is in high form throughout–and so is his cast.
Christoph Waltz is deliciously creepy as an urbane-acting and viciously homicidal Nazi SS Colonel. Shoshana (Melanie Laurent) barely escapes the Waltz-directed massacre of her French-Jewish family in the film’s opening set piece.
Both will figure prominently in later sequences, but for now we cut abruptly to Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), a US Army officer with a backwoods Appalachian accent thick enough to cut with the huge scalping knife he carries everywhere. He’s also Jewish and has put together a squad of Jewish-American soldiers for the express purpose of slaughtering and terrorizing as many genocidal Nazis as possible.
They parachute into enemy-held France and we see how they quickly earn a reputation for smirking and stylish brutality directed gleefully at the hapless cannon fodder offered up by the so-called Master Race.
Meanwhile, Shoshana reappears with a new identity in Paris, running a small cinema. She has painfully polite encounters with a boyish German soldier (Daniel Bruhl) who seems a dedicated film buff and innocently unaware of her barely restrained hostility (he is a foreign invader, after all). This faux-sweet character is actually a ruthless sniper who gained fame by killing a ridiculous number of American troops in Italy. Now he’s starting a film career, starring as himself in Nation’s Pride, a propaganda film glorifying his savage exploits.
The film within a film is to have its premiere in occupied Paris, complete with attendance by all the leading Nazi Party officials, even Hitler! Shoshana finds herself roped into hosting this unpalatable event, mostly because the young war hero has the hots for her. She also has an unsettling new encounter with the Nazi Colonel, who is now in charge of security for the wing-ding. Somehow, Waltz’s allegedly brilliant Jew-hunter fails to recognize her (or does he?).
Anyway, Shoshana decides this is her chance to strike back at her family’s murderers–even if it gets her and her black Frenchman lover/projectionist killed.
Allied intelligence has also learned of this inviting gathering, courtesy a famous German actress (Diane Kruger) who is an agent for them. Back in England, we get a cameo by Mike Myers (in another of Tarantino’s offbeat yet weirdly successful casting brainstorms). He’s the amusingly stiff British General who clues in a young German-speaking officer (Michael Fassbinder) about plans to attack the German leadership.
Fassbinder parachutes in-country, links up with the American squad (the self-proclaimed “Basterds”) and they meet with the actress. So, unknown to one another, two separate plots aimed at the same target are set to unfold.
Fassbinder is your basic earnest, handsome and stalwart hero-type. In Tarantino’s telling, this means he is of course going to be the one who blunders, good intentions notwithstanding, and puts the professional soldiers’ scheme into doubt. His bad accent and a culturally inaccurate hand gesture lead to a close-quarters throw-down from which the Brit, the Basterds only two German-speaking members, a bunch of actual Germans and the staff of a small Paris bar all meet their fate in a blood-spattered frenzy.
Kruger suffers a leg wound, leading to a quick nasty scene with an understandably pissed-off Pitt testing her loyalty/questioning/torturing her. Once she’s patched up (more or less), their plans are rearranged with Pitt and his buddies ineptly playing Italian filmmakers with even worse accents than Fassbender’s (Brad’s mangled blend of backwoods drawl and less-than-elementary school Italian is especially absurd).
Waltz has discovered Kruger’s betrayal, so he murders her and captures Pitt and another Basterd. He knows the remaining two are seated in the cinema, yet doesn’t move against them. It seems Waltz realizes the Third Reich is doomed and wants to swing a deal to save himself. He’s placed the explosives Pitt and the other guy had strapped to their bodies under seats in Hitler’s balcony, and will let the other two run rampant—if he’s assured safety and immunity for past crimes, in exchange for helping end the war.
Meanwhile, Shoshana’s plan goes forward—locking the unknowing audience in the building and showing an altered version of the movie that amounts to Tarantino’s tribute to the Big Brother film scene in 1984, as a giant image of the vengeful woman announces the impending death of all who are watching. Behind the screen, her boyfriend has used the super-flammable film stock to set the whole place on fire.
She doesn’t get to witness her success, because the horny sniper comes onto her in the projection room and they shoot each other dead when she rejects his advances.
The remaining Basterds break into the balcony area, machine-gunning Hitler and company, then get blown up along with the building and everybody else.
All this is intercut together with brutally artful efficiency. And while Pitt and his surviving buddy are ordered not to kill the turncoat Waltz, his trusty knife gets to inflict a little permanent (if nonfatal) justice on the smirkingly evil character.