A self proclaimed masterpiece (the balls on this guy!), Quentin Tarantino’s World War II, “Guy’s On A Mission” subgenre movie hit cinemas during the summer of 2009. It was met with mixed reviews. From some criticising the film’s lack of moral depth (cry me a river, sweetheart), to others claiming that it was too long and not enough action (here’s prescription for your ADHD, twinkle toes). I recall, one audience member disliking it because “Hitler didn’t really die like that” (extraordinary). Brackets surrounding insults aside, cinema is subjective and everyone is entitled their opinion. Here’s mine . . .
Inglourious Basterds was a long time in the making. Originally conceived and written after production on Jackie Brown in 1997, the script proved to be too gargantuan to break down into a movie. Tarantino took some time off, went to the movies, made Kill Bill 1 & 2, Deathproof and then returned to tackle the page. Bagged himself a Brad Pitt and a bilingual Austrian and production began. Howard Hawks once said that what makes a good movie is “three good scenes and no bad ones”. After seeing Basterds in the cinema that line quote kept coming back to me. The set pieces in Basterds are some of the best the director has ever filmed. Tension plays a character in the film, which is wonderfully demonstrated in the opening farm scene and the tavern scene. It streches and stretches like a rubber band until snap! Blood, guts, mayhem and all that good stuff erupts.
Eli Roth, who plays Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz, gleefully described the film as “kosher porn”, and even though the movie certainly conveys a merciless approach to killing Nazis, it doesn’t convey all of Third Reich as one dimensional anatgonists. Take Fredrick Zoller as an example, the sharpshooter with a heart of gold. He’s a national hero, but has a taste for Charlie Chaplin films and follows Melanie Laurent’s character around like a puppy. Or take Sgt. Werner Rachtman, who stares death in the face and holds his own. When asked by The Bear Jew if he got his medals for killing Jews, he defiantly replies “bravery”. And of course, the stand-out, one of the most complex villians in recent memory, Landa (Christoph Waltz), mounts even more layers and eccentics to the movie. This Aryan Sherlock Holmes is intelligent, egotistical, calm and collected as he interrogates. However, he loses his cool when he strangles Bridget von Hammersmark. Because she’s an opportunist like him? Because he hates women? Because he didn’t see it coming? All these are rightly left unanswered by the end of the movie to let the audience decide.
The ensemble international cast and the native tongues made Basterds more authentic and a true product of world cinema. Although the film is reminscent of the old WWII pictures of the 1960s, an action genre piece rather than Holocaust drama, it took it a step further with a bit of the old ultraviolence, and the more realistic approach of having the French and German characters actually speak French and German.
The type of backlash from some critics back in 2009, lambasting it for its exploitive and non-sentimental story, is becoming more and more common nowadays. This view has become ingrained in the psyche of some contemporary publishers. Movies are in danger of having to always carry some form of virtuous message rather than rely on story, aesthetic and God forbid, entertainment. Pretension has become an extension on the tip’s of these social justice warrior’s pens. Your ideology doesn’t need to be caressed during a movie, in fact, sometimes it should be challenged, releasing you from docility.
Basterds was the first in Tarantino’s unofficial historical revisionist trilogy and in my opinion his strongest. It was released in an extremely competitive year – Avatar, The Hurt Locker, District 9, Up In The Air – but as innovative and progressive as those movies were, it took a blast from the past to make a true enduring classic. Without the gratuitious violence, in thirty years from now families could’ve been watching Basterds on Christmas Day just like they do The Great Escape. But if you can’t wait that long, The Sugar Club, Dublin is screening this great movie next Wednesday. For more info and tickets click below.