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Tarantino’s New WWII Film “Downright Glorious”

Scene | Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It’s wildly audacious, merrily insensitive, insane and, at times, so over-the-top that it’s safe to say that it’ll alienate half of its audience. But gosh darn it, it’s downright glorious; a grand spectacle of a film that could only come from a master of cinema at his very best.

Quentin Tarantino’s much-anticipated revenge thriller veiled as a war-picture, “Inglourious Basterds” is a nearly indescribable manifestation of cinematic storytelling.

Using his keen eye for dialogue, flexing his love for gore and tension-filled action and somehow managing to walk the line between quirky comical genius and dark, sensitive storytelling, Tarantino sticks to his guns and brings to life a story that is uniquely his, and could only be as successful as it is under his bold vision.

Payback is the name of the game in this revisionist fantasy of a World War II film. And payback has never been so sweet.
Set in Nazi-occupied France, “Inglourious Basterds” is the tale of a group of Jewish-American soldiers led by the ruthless Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who are sent into France as Raine says, “For one thing, and one thing only: Killing Nazis.” The lot of them are feared throughout the ranks of the S.S., for tales of their methods of execution strike fear into the heart of even Hitler himself.

Known only as “The Basterds,” we find them rampaging through France, bashing skulls in with baseball bats, cutting off dead Nazi scalps for sport, shooting first and never stopping to ask any questions and, in rare instances of compassion, carving swastikas onto the foreheads of their prisoners. Their actions, so barbarically outlandish and cringe-inducing, would be so wrong, if only, as the audience sits in awe and watches with wide eyes, it didn’t feel so right.

Tarantino ingeniously weaves the storyline of the Basterds with that of Shoshanna Dreyfus, a young Jewish woman who witnesses the murder of her entire family at the hands of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz, who rightfully won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival for this role), who stumbles upon a chance at ultimate revenge on the Nazis. The owner of a local cinema, she is presented with the opportunity to host a premiere of a new film from Germany’s premier director, to which many high-ranking members of Nazi command will attend. And thus she plots her revenge just as the Basterds go about theirs.

The film is awash in references to old cinema – everything from the carefully crafted soundtrack, to the set locations, to elements of the dialogue – all pay homage to old cinema, which is a new trick in Tarantino’s bag. There’s no revolutionary status to this film like there was with “Pulp Fiction.” Instead, Tarantino has made a film that is as uniquely “Tarantino” as could be, while somehow being as weirdly non-trademark Tarantino as he’s ever been.

Watch closely and you’ll know it’s his brainchild, but watch closer and you’ll notice his flare for dialogue has changed, and if there was any Hollywood in him at all, it’s been put aside for the duration of the film’s runtime. There are no Royale with cheese-like conversations or round-table discussions like in the opening scene in “Reservoir Dogs,” and there are no rules here, or Hollywood boundaries. It has a style all to its own, a nearly unexplainable style that can best be described as a strangely refreshing breath of fresh air.

Some will be annoyed, and others enthralled by just how whacked out and immoral Tarantino’s Nazi-killing machine of a film is. Some will find it overlong and choppy at times, so much so that the quirks, as plentiful as they are, will lose their charm. But for those who have enough patience and resilience to just take this as seriously as it’s meant to be taken, this a rare joy ride of a film that’s so enjoyable, you just can’t help but grin from ear-to-ear once the credits roll.

It isn’t “Pulp Fiction” and it’s no masterpiece per se, but it may just be the most swaggeringly fun, weirdly delightful film to grace the silver screen in years. They’re basterds, the whole bunch of them, and it’s so glorious, we just can’t help but love ’em.