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In Basterds We Trust

inglourious_basterds_ver4Revisionist history isn’t necessarily synonymous with Quentin Tarantino, but it’s what you get in his latest big-screen offering, the intentionally misspelled Inglourious Basterds. In some ways, it’s a typical Tarantino film, some parts offering wickedly dark comedy, witty character interactions and bloody violence; in others, it’s quite different from anything Tarantino has done before and marks a more mature approach from the director, while retaining everything that has made his films instant such cult classics.

Inglourious Basterds steps back in time further than Tarantino usually brings us, ignoring the usual 70s-exploitation-cinema influences behind Kill Bill, Jackie Brown or Pulp Fiction in favour of a movie set during World War II. There are several different intertwining storylines to the movie, told across five chapters, each telling its own self-contained story before coming together in the fifth chapter, and giving the film a similar feel to Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill although, in this case, the film remains linear and chronological throughout.

Most of the film takes place in France where, in the Nazi-occupied French countryside, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads a deeply undercover squad of Jewish-American soldiers, the Basterds of the title, instilling fear in the occupying forces by ambushing and scalping Nazis; in Paris, Emmanuelle Mimieux (Mélanie Laurent) runs a cinema and becomes the object of Frederick Zoller’s affections, a Nazi war hero (Daniel Brühl) who is both star and subject of Joseph Goebbels’ newest propoganda film; and in London, Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) is sent on a dangerous mission, using his movie critic past to infiltrate Goebbels’ movie premiere as escort to the German actress Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger.)

inglorious-basterds2Those looking for an action film that does for guns and WWII what Kill Bill did for katanas and Japan will find themselves disappointed: there is some action in there, but as with many Tarantino offerings, the heart of the film lies in dialogue, in long drawn out conversations that paint a clearer picture of the characters, and the world in which they live. It’s here that Inglourious Basterds shines through as Tarantino’s love letter to European cinema of the mid-20th century and the styles thereof: German and French cinema become a necessary talking point for Mimieux and Hicox in particular, even providing a means for the story to progress. Visually, the film is stunning, with some beautifully shot scenes and sets: in particular, the art deco stylings of Emmanuelle’s cinema gives the film a chance to convey some old-school Hollywood glamour in amongst the harsh uniforms and war-time uniforms, and both Kruger and Laurent manage to remain enchanting even in some horribly dark scenes.

It’s a testament to Tarantino that he can get performances like this from his actors: even his actor buddy Eli Roth (who, let’s admit, can’t really act) manages a good performance, although acted off the stage by Basterd Til Schweiger, both female leads and Christoph Waltz, the movie’s lead villain, playing the omnipresent and, seemingly all-knowing, Jew-Hunter, Colonel Hans Landa. Waltz was awarded with the Bast Actor Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his performance, and even with the arch-fiend himself featured in the film, Landa proves more threatening than even Hitler himself.

With a running time of two-and-a-half hours, there isn’t a moment of Inglourious Basterds that isn’t riveting and entertaining, especially those scenes with the aforementioned actors.Yet there are still moments when the dialogue goes on for just a little bit too long, serving to diminish some of the same tension these scenes are trying to create. Kudos also goes to Tarantino for keeping the film authentic, with French characters played by French actors, Germans played by German, and this also means that long scenes take place in those languages (with subtitles), an impressive feat for an American director. None of this is distracting, however: no scene is so long that it brings you out of the film, and the subtitles are easy to follow (although we all know that audiences who avoid subtitles will probably never be swayed, no matter what we say.)

Inglorious-Basterds-Trailer-quentin-tarantino-4427498-1280-532Inglourious Basterds may easily rate as Tarantino’s finest film, and the last twenty minutes in particular provide some of the finest moments that the director has ever committed to celluloid, combining Tarantino’s penchant for action with some surprisingly moving moments. In its close, Tarantino’s film remains a witty affair, but is also a film with a very real basis in history, and as such, finds some poignance that’s never been seen in his movies before.

Zombie Rating: A-

Inglourious Basterds opens in cinemas in the UK & Ireland on 19th August 2009, and in the USA on 21st August.

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