Inglourious Basterds (2009)
The sixth film by Quentin Tarantino finds the esteemed filmmaker in sublime form as he blends the genres of war drama & spaghetti western into one stylish, violent & vengeful cinematic delight that brims with Tarantino’s patented wordplay, fascinating characters, uninhibited violence, outstanding cast & excellent performances to deliver a thrilling ride that enthrals, entertains & satisfies on all levels, and keeps getting better with every subsequent viewing.
Set in Nazi-occupied France, Inglourious Basterds intercuts two story lines. First concerns a young Jewish girl who, after witnessing her family being killed by an SS officer, plots her revenge several years later when a German war film is arranged to premiere at her theatre. The second plot follows a team of Jewish-American soldiers who plan to assassinate all the Nazi leaders attending the film premiere. The two plots of revenge eventually coincide as the story nears its conclusion.
Written & directed by Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds is told in five chapters and features the best opening scene of any Tarantino movie to date. The first twenty minutes is a pure exercise in unabridged, patient & flawless filmmaking for the director allows the dialogue-heavy segment to instil an unnerving ambience on its own and keeps a firm check on the pace & camera movements. It also introduces us to the main antagonist in grand style and by the time the first chapter ends, we know all there is to know about Hans Landa & his cunning tactics.
Tarantino’s direction is terrific while his screenplay is a gem in itself. Adding enough meat on every character’s bone, he manages to carve out many suspenseful moments from the most unexpected corners and while his usual elements, such as pop culture references, dark humour, blood-soaked violence are in tact, the writer-director also removes the veil of hypocrisy to show that all humans, regardless of their religion, race or other labels, are capable of intense cruelty. Also, by setting his narrative in a fictional alternate history, he frees himself from following the fact formula and plays as per his wishes.
The technical aspects are fabulously carried out, each adding something to the movie. Production design team does a really fine job in setting up the World War II iconography, albeit with little dose of western landscape. Cinematography gives its images a sumptuous look & feel, while exquisitely moving the camera around to capture the drama in splendid detail. Editing is expertly carried out and its 152 minutes of runtime is consistently paced. And as always, Tarantino manages to put together an amazing soundtrack, comprising of wonderful tracks that seamlessly integrate with the scenes to effortlessly uplift the whole experience.
Coming to the performances, Inglourious Basterds features a stellar cast in Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Daniel Brühl & others, and all of them are fabulous in their given roles. Pitt plays a character that belongs to his comfort zone and does well with what he’s given. Fassbender is present in just one chapter yet manages to leave his mark. Kruger & Brühl balance their act really well, Roth gets to play the coolest basterd of them all plus his skull bashing scene had all the build-up elements of a spaghetti western Mexican standoff. However, the best performances come from Waltz & Laurent.
Making a lasting impression right within the opening segment, Waltz brings this ingeniously written character to life as per the exact demands of the screenplay and delivers an absolutely impeccable performance that easily goes down as one of decade’s best. The character of Hans Landa is one of Tarantino’s finest creations and Waltz only gets better in that role as the story progresses. Without Waltz’s contribution, Inglourious Basterds amounts to pretty much nothing plus it’s a rare instance of perfect actor-character marriage. Laurent is another revelation and plays her part with absolute finesse and just like Waltz, her input is devoid of any faults.
On an overall scale, Inglourious Basterds is another original, sophisticated & downright captivating extravaganza from Quentin Tarantino that, like few of his earlier flicks, requires a little getting used to. Jam-packed with vibrant flavours & accomplished in nearly every filmmaking aspect, the movie brilliantly exhibits just how far this master storyteller has come over the years in tightening his grip around his craft. One of the best films of its year and certainly amongst the finest from Tarantino’s filmography, Inglourious Basterds is a slow burner but it has all the ingredients of an instant classic and considering numerous other positives, I think this just might be his masterpiece.