Review: Inglourious Basterds is Damned Delightful

"A cascade of characters, all compelling, all dynamic, all thrown into the Tarantino stew."


Quentin Tarantino is my kind of filmmaker. His use of tension (Quentin's Tension), his sincere homaging, his absolute love of all things cinema -- I mean, this is just a guy that "gets it." I know he's not for everyone. And I know this subject matter isn't appealing to most. But man, if we could all just get over our preconceived notions and let Tarantino present his concepts I think we'd be better off as a nation, nay, a world.

World War II. The Nazis. A ruthless band of Americans (led by Brad Pitt) is inserted into the thick of it, into enemy-controlled France. Their mission? To wreak havoc. To cause fear. To bring the fight to the Nazis. We've seen filmmakers tackle every angle of this war, from the measured and noble perseverance of Defiance to the horror of concentration camp discovery displayed in Band of Brothers. But we've never seen the joy of killing that must have occurred on the winning side, the angry outlet of war, where courage and nobility have left, leaving only darkness, blood, and hurt on all sides. Tarantino tries here, tries to point out the obvious, that real people with flaws and families were involved, that we would have had to send a few killers over there to sort things out.

Because really, no one can make sense of something this big: 11 million people marched off to camps and killed, an entire generation of Russians dead defending the capitol, a new and fearsome weapon developed by the biggest intellects in the world and unleashed upon a citizenry. It's all too massive, the scope is too epic, and most efforts come off as sterile by comparison. There's no way to impart the enormity of the situation, so why not tell the story of one man? Or a group of survivors? It's the kind and gentle way out. It's comfortable. But it's not true, any more than the phrase "six million Jews" has the type of impact that it should. It should absolutely floor you, each and every time. But the human emotional construct is built to deflect, work around, and simply move forward. We never put it together that these were all real people, and that's the true horror of the situation, that neighbors sold each other out, that we sent some very bad people to do some very bad things, and that occasionally a Nazi officer was a charming yet horrifying version of Mr. Rogers. Somehow, once you wade through the one-liners, silliness, and brutality you're left with the heart of the film. You want the Nazis to be obliterated, and not for noble reasons. Think of the hurt if someone took your sister, wife, or mom away from you. What would you want for that person? And isn't it empowering to see a filmmaker completely unafraid to give it to you? Yeah, it's the ugly side of humanity ... but it's no less honest. If anything it's more accurate given the hell that was occurring during this time period. War is terrible, but the people involved on all side were humans with the human motivations of passion, anger, national pride, and power.

The most misleading thing about Inglourous Basterds is that it's not even about Pitt's group of guerrilla warriors. It's really the story of a girl in occupied Paris who runs a movie theater. It's a fantasy revenge epic. It's a cascade of characters, all compelling, all dynamic, all thrown into the Tarantino stew. This is a fun movie, which is terrible to say given the subject matter, but it's true. Tarantino has made the film that occurs in your head which you never, ever, tell anyone about. He's laid bare the themes of familial obligation and revenge, and he's done it with real beauty. The Nazis were evil for a number of complex reasons but Tarantino is nice enough to hate them for simple ones, offering simple solutions. Like a bat to the head, it's not too subtle, but you can't help but watch. Each and every scene has a giant shoe hanging over it, just waiting to drop, violence waiting to be strummed on Inglourious Basterds' 12-string guitar. The only startling aspect? You want to hear the music.

Grade: A