Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Daniel Bruhl, Til Schweiger, B.J. Novak, Jacky Ido, Denis Menochet.
“You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece!” – not the most modest of lines, but, then again, Quentin Tarantino has never been one for modesty and when it comes to his Inglourious Basterds, truer words have never been spoken. Tarantino is one of the most divisive directors working today – any one of his nine feature films could be either hailed as his best or declared his worst, it’s like playing roulette every time, but even at his worst, it’s still not bad, and at least the man remains true to his style, not to mention forever emphasizing his undying appreciation for cinema. Inglourious Basterds is a testament to that and, for me, in my humblest opinion, Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s finest film – his masterpiece – a film that marries the very best of his style, his abilities as a writer and director, and I firmly believe that the man himself recognizes it as such also.
So what makes this film Tarantino’s finest? Where to start? Well, let’s just start with the impeccable, international ensemble that he’s gathered. Here we have Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo “The Apache” Raine, commander of the Basterds, and yet another fun, iconic character under Pitt’s belt. Michael Fassbender plays the charming Lt. Archie Hicox – a small, but pivotal role that gave us a glimpse of what Fassbender had in store for his now blossoming career. Melanie Laurent radiates from the screen as Shosanna, the beautiful and vengeful Jew who brings the film to it’s glorious, albeit destructive, bloody, and violent conclusion. And then, of course, we have our first introduction to the wonderful, scene-stealing Christoph Waltz. Generally unknown at the time, Waltz enters and dominates the movie from the nail-biting opening sequence, jumping between loyalties and effortlessly between four languages throughout the duration of the film as the equally iconic, dastardly war opportunist, Col. Hans Landa. These few and everyone else (the list is endless) in Inglourious Basterds give stellar performances that contribute so magnificently, so significantly, not just to the film as a whole or it’s ensemble, but to the actual plot. Every part, no matter how small or large, pushes the story forward, if not that, then they’re strongly influencing the overall outcome. The winning factor, however, is the inescapable feeling that everyone onscreen is having as much fun we are – and that’s just quality entertainment.
Whilst we’re on the subject of the story, I believe Inglourious Basterds is the best example to Quentin Tarantino’s genius as a writer. It supposedly took Tarantino ten years to write Basterds and, in comparison to his other works (especially those two of late), it honestly shows. Each character, action, reaction, fact, twist – each detail is so intricate and well thought out, that it all comes full circle in the end. He even goes on to reference his own characters as the story goes on (i.e. Stieglitz referring to Frederick Zoller as he points his gun firmly at Major Hellstrom’s balls). We all know Tarantino to push the limits of our attention with dialogue heavy scenes – some can, indeed feel aimless and self-indulgent (The Hateful Eight), but when it’s good, it’s marvelous. Tarantino pushes those limits again and again, from that same nail-biting opening sequence – a scene that frequently raises and eases the tension back and forth brilliantly through dialogue until it builds to its’ explosive conclusion. With this scene alone, we witness not only the sheer talent of Waltz (and that of Denis Menochet, respectively), but also the template for a movie filled with similar scenes, scenes that constantly fuck with the audience in regard to the safety of the story’s heroes. The infamous tavern scene in the chapter “Operation Kino” is the finest example of this, as we watch Lt. Hicox and two Basterds go undercover to make a rendezvous with Diane Kruger’s Bridget Von Hammersmarck (yet another awesome character) in a tavern full of Nazis… in a basement. The tension that ensues is overwhelming, even exhausting at times, as it constantly rises and falls, as our heroes fall in and out of danger, up until…
Glorious, no? And to refer to this scene even further – this is also a prime example of the sharp, quality editing that has been lacking in Tarantino’s films since the untimely passing of his longtime editor, Sally Menke (RIP). Indeed, Menke’s editing is a key factor to the success of Basterds. For a movie clocking in past the 2 1/2 hour mark – a movie not only filled with dialogue-heavy scenes, but where the dialogue is only in English for 30% of it’s duration – and to have such a fun and immersive pulse all the while, to have the audience’s attention transfixed the entire time, is quite a feat.
We haven’t had a Tarantino film entered into the bucket yet, which is surprising to be sure, but only fitting that it should be this, his masterpiece, that marks the first entry. You can love anyone of his movies, and anyone of them could be your favorite, and you’d be forgiven for thinking so, because there is something brilliant in every, or at least most of Quentin Tarantino’s films. For me (and I like to think for Quentin too) this is my favorite of the lot. It has the very best of everything that makes Quentin Tarantino such a great and unique filmmaker today. There’s an intricate, though impeccably balanced plot, packed with thoughtful dialogue and glamorous iconography, all brought to life with an incredible cast. From the moment the opening credits roll to the sound of Dimitri Tiomkin’s “Green Leaves of Summer”, a big, reassured grin grows across your face as you settle in for a classic.