As far as I am concerned, Quentin Tarantino can rewrite everything we have learned from the history books, as long as he films his version.
Though Inglourious Basterds uses Nazi occupied France as its setting, there is little need to know more than the basics about WWII going into this film. Instead, Tarantino creates a history all of his own in this story of the resistance. The most notable are “the basterds,” a group of Jewish American soldiers whose goal is to kill and scalp as many Nazis as they can, inciting fear as the lore of their actions spreads throughout the German forces. Elsewhere in France is Shosanna Dreyfus, a Jewish cinema owner who witnessed the murder of her family at the start of the occupation, and eventually is led to seek revenge. Broken down into five acts, Basterds slowly builds towards the culmination of their efforts to hurt the Nazi party in any way they can. However, no film of this magnitude would be complete without an odious villain. As bad as Hitler is, Tarantino sticks with making a mockery of his power, and instead gives this role to Hans Landa, a Nazi Colonel who delights in his job of hunting down and slaughtering the Jewish people (he is also responsible for Shosanna’s family’s death).
Following the example of Nation’s Pride, the fictional film that a lot of the story revolves around, Inglourious Basterds plays out as a sort of propaganda film for a past event. One major example of this is how many symbols of America make it into the film. There are “the basterds” themselves, led by Lt. Aldo Raine, a man with a thick, deep south accent and pride of being part native American, which he shows in his rule that all his men bring him the scalps of the men they kill. Another member of the group is Sgt. Donny Donowitz, or “The Bear Jew,” a man from Boston who loves to beat Nazis to death with a baseball bat. As horrific as most of these acts are, especially up on the big screen, there is a feeling of electricity that flows through the audience in these moments. Personally, I couldn’t help but delight in Raine’s carving of a swastika into a Nazi soldiers forehead. And finally, as I mentioned before, Hitler is shown in a more comical light, hiding away in his gigantic office, cursing the acts and power of “the basterds” as his portrait is painted on the wall behind him.
To fill these roles, a great group of actors is needed to bring these (often) ridiculous characters to life. At the forefront in Brad Pitt, who does a perfect job as Aldo Raine, whether he is using foreheads as canvasses or horribly smothering his attempted Italian with his southern accent. Lucky enough for us this didn’t become a one-man show, with a cast that is more than able to live up to this high standard. Mélanie Laurent fleshes out the more emotional side of the film in her depiction of Shosanna, and as hilarious as “the basterds” were, I found myself more drawn to her story line, praying that she would succeed in her revenge plot. With all that said, Christoph Waltz deserves a standing ovation for his portrayal of Col. Hans Landa, especially considering how he plays all aspects of that lunatic’s psyche. More often than not he plays him for the scary man that he is, however, there are a few moments, especially towards the end, where the more unrestrained aspects of his personality slip out, making him all the more intimidating and off-putting.
With a film like this it is easy to get engulfed in the character/story driven aspects of the film, however, it would not have the impact it does without the visuals to back it up. At the beginning of the film I was really drawn in by the musical selections, a lot of which again played on the feeling of national pride with strong undertones of the Wild West, similar to what Tarantino does with the music in Kill Bill. And then towards the end at the premiere of National Pride, there are more allusions harking back to Kill Bill (the crazy 88 scene to be more specific), such as the grand open rooms of the screening room, the birds-eye-view shots moving over the walls as the camera follows Shosanna as she walks towards the premiere in a bright red dress, sticking out in a the sea of neutral military dress suits (similar to The Brides yellow tracksuit), all of which build anticipation for the events to come.
Inglourious Basterds plays the part of a modern propaganda film beautifully, but it becomes much more than a statement about a war with its aesthetics, characters, comical elements, etc. And because of this, I forgive Tarantino’s rewriting of history. I like his version better anyway…
Final Grade: A