I have often lamented Tarantino’s fixation on violence when he is such a fantastic writer and storyteller. Pulp Fiction is perhaps so fondly remembered because it seldom felt gratuitous in it’s gore and blood-spilling. Later offerings such as the ultra-violent Kill-Bill and the hyper-reality of Death Proof always felt like experiments rather than fully rounded films. Tarantino had no problem with bending the rules so Uma Thurman could get on an aeroplane with her katana sword, and here he does the same with Hitler and the Nazis.
However, I was thoroughly impressed with Inglourious Basterds. I have never held as much respect for Pulp Fiction as many other cinemagoers. Do I like the film? Of course! As a younger man I understandably loved all of the macho, primal moments that it portrayed. Yet I would not say it blows everything else he has done clear out of the water. (To be fair, it is still his most well-rounded and consistent film.) Jackie Brown is highly underrated and has some fantastic scenes that for me at least, surpassed Pulp Fiction. I know that what I have just said may hit a nerve with some readers. I stress this is only personal opinion.
Kill Bill parts 1&2 and Death Proof were fun films, yet I felt a lot of the dialogue (the real reason I follow Tarantino as a writer and director) sounded slightly cheesy and scripted. I know Tarantino doesn’t care about our reality, he only wishes to draw us into his own reality. I get that, I really do. But it has not been until now, dealing with something as well known and purely evil as Hitler and the Nazis, that Tarantino has finally found a film to let rip with creatively. The dialogue still sounds scripted, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t ring true here.
The opening scene is like nothing you have seen Tarantino do before. It feels real, deadly and totally serious. Taking place in the French countryside, it bordered on the terrifying and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. The ‘Jew Hunter’ Colonel Hans Landa is surely Tarantino’s ultimate character, from any of his films, period. As he sits in a farmhouse secretly housing Jews under the floorboards, drinking milk as he interrogates the owner, swapping between German and English… well, he made me laugh nervously and feel totally repulsed all at once.
This one scene alone made me smile like a maniac, because soon afterwards when we are introduced to the titular Basterds themselves (keen eyed viewers will noticed this is how Brad Pitt’s character spells the name of his troop, carved into the wood of his rifle) we are suddenly back in familiar Tarantino territory, gore and all. Pitt’s character Aldo Raine chews up the scenery with reckless abandon; I have never been a huge fan of the actor, yet here he felt very heavyweight and totally commanded the screen. The rest of the cast do a remarkable job as well, making Pitt’s exquisite performance par the course for everyone involved which is no small feat. The acting and delivery really is excellent. Who would have thought that Mike Myers could undo all the shit he has done in the last few years with one scene?! So yes, this film is violent alongside the sparkling dialogue, perhaps the worst violence in a Tarantino film yet. But for the first time in years it works, in context… it feels fresh again.
Tarantino could make great regular films, I have no doubt. He could tone himself down and make something nuanced and less controversial in a heartbeat. Yet deep down, I think he is happy making great Tarantino films. In my opinion, viewers should soak in the fantastic story, and let the gore and violence wash over them as disposable entertainment.
The film ends with the words: “This might just be my masterpiece.” And perhaps for Tarantino, it is. For me, I am just amazed a film so big is doing so well, when it features *gasp* subtitles! For this alone, Basterds deserves a look.
9 OUT OF 10