After being ill last weekend, I thought I might not be able to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds in theaters. When looking at the choices this weekend, however, I found that Inglourious Basterds topped my list over horror film sequels Halloween II (2009) and The Final Destination (2009). So, we ventured forth to see our last film of the summer, Inglourious Basterds.
At first glance, the cast seems to be a bit iffy. Brad Pitt, of course, is the biggest star in the bunch, but his acting tends to be erratic. He’s good as a bit player (12 Monkeys (1995), True Romance (1993)), but his bigger roles tend to leave a little something to be desired. Thankfully, that’s not really the case under Quentin’s directing, and his vicious southerner is decent throughout – true, maybe not exactly captivating, but entertaining.
The rest of the cast is widely varied, and most do a good job. The biggest stand-out is director Eli Roth Hostel (2005), who seems to enjoy being on-screen in the film the most. His character, always a bit wide-eyed and a little to eager to please, takes on his brutal role with relish. His obvious enjoyment with his role is catching, and the audience will remember his character above most others in the film.
Melanie Laurent is another standout in Inglourious Basterds. Her depiction of a Jew in hiding in plain sight, and who is forced to mingle with the Germans on a more intimate basis than she would prefer, is entirely captivating, and her sequences are one the biggest highlights of the film. She’s able to showcase her fear and hatred of the Germans while seeming to remain calm in the face of danger so well it makes this revenge pic feel more meaningful and heartfelt. She gives the audience an inside look at the constant trepidation and fear the Jews had to endure on a daily basis, and the audience feels better for knowing her character.
Christoph Waltz, on the other hand, gives us a rather brutally honest look at the German mind in his role as Col. Hans Landa. Mutedly sadistic, his character hides it well under a veneer of friendly charm, but a veneer thin enough that his subject can see through it to the viciousness lying just below the surface, give even his politely friendly smiles a hint of evil. He instills fear in his subjects – and ratchets the tension ever higher for the audience – even when in his polite mode. It’s an impressive performance, and will have audiences comparing him to Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List (1993).
On the other hand, there’s Mike Myers (yes, the Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) guy). What seemed to be odd casting right from the start doesn’t fit in any better on-screen, as Mike seems to be unsure whether to play his character as an older Austin Powers (he is a British spy in the film, after all) or be more serious about it. While Quentin may have picked him to spoof on his Austin character, it turns out more like he’s still in character and spoofing on the seriousness of Inglourious Basterds instead – and even doing that rather badly. While it’s usually nice to see a recognizable face show up in bit parts (Brendan Fraser in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) for example), in this case Mike should have just said no, and gone back to trying to find a script for Austin Powers 4 instead.
At it’s heat, Inglouris Basterds is a brutal fantasy revenge picture. While Schindler’s List (1993) tried to base itself in reality – and one man’s valiant attempt to save as many lives as he could – Quentin’s scenario is more of the eye-for-an-eye viewpoint. Rather than sticking to what audiences know, he takes his band of killers on a road trip through Nazi-occupied France, brutally massacring any Nazis in their path and culminating in a fiery showdown in a theater.
While it’s kind of nice to see some Nazis get some payback for the atrocities performed on the Jews under Hitler, the viewer isn’t quite sure if it’s in an alternate reality or ours right up until the end. This makes the audience pause when the characters veer into unfamiliar territory. This hurts the film a bit, as the sudden realization of this alternate reality causes viewers to pull back a bit from their involvement in the film, which gives the ending much less impact than it would have had.
Still, if you’re looking for a brutally violent (yes, there are up close shots of scalpings) revenge picture where the Nazis get some up close and personal payback for the crimes perpetrated under Hitler, Inglourious Basterds should be right up your alley. True, it’s got a lot more subtitles than one would expect, and comes off more as a foreign film than a Quentin-esque blood fest, but, like any Quentin film, it’s a unique experience with surprising depth and well worth the time it takes to watch it.