Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Walz, Diane Kruger, Mike Myers. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. 236 mins.
Rated M (violence and coarse language).
After the Grindhouse-indulgent Death Proof, where could Quentin Tarantino go to reclaim his status of the 1990s, of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown? It seems he went back to a screenplay he had been working on for years, adding, developing, laying aside but, now, picking it up again and really going with it. It is a striking film in many ways and is reassuring to hear well-written and articulate and serious Tarantino lines, something that he used to do so cleverly (not that he doesn't indulge himself at times with rip-offs of his former writing, especially in the mouth of Brad Pitt).
Is it like a Tarantino film? Yes and no. At times, there is a wildness about it, especially in the scenes with Brad Pitt as Aldo Rainie with his inglourious basterds (taken from the title of Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 war movie). There are several moments of quiet violence and scalpings that are quite disturbing. But nothing really to compare with Kill Bill. That will make some audiences relax and coax others to venture to see it.
The structure is five chapters – which eventually come together very well. The first opens with 'Once Upon a Time... in Nazi Occupied France'. So, it is a fable of World War II, invented, with a climax that is post-hoc wishful thinking but no less exhilarating for that. This is how Tarantino might have won the war had he been around at the time!
The first chapter is extremely well done as an introduction: huge widescreen vistas of France, the Nazis arriving at a dairy farm in search of a Jewish family, polite talk between Colonel Lando, nicknamed the Jew Hunter, and the farmer, clever use of French and English and then disaster for the family. It is a fine World War II short story in itself.
By way of contrast, chapter 2 introduces the Basterds, some back stories, explanation of what this group of Jewish bandits for what became the OSS were doing in terms of destroying Nazis – which, ruggedly and brutally, they do.
When we are thinking how brutal this is, we are introduced to Hitler himself doing a rant that far outdoes the Basterds. So, the scene is set (with Tarantino not afraid to have an actor play Hitler (quite effectively) and Goebbels as well).
We are then in for a surprise: cinema in occupied Paris, giving the director more than a chance to show posters, have discussions about cinema (which is then added to by the recruiting of a British film critic (Michael Fassbender) by a general (Mike Myers) in the presence of Churchill (Rod Taylor) to go undercover in Paris). In Paris itself we see a young German soldier, played very persuasively by Daniel Bruhl, who befriends the young owner of the cinema (Melanie Laurent, also persuasive). Bruhl's soldier, says Tarantino, is somewhat modeled on Audie Murphy, this time a young heroic German soldier who stars in the film about his exploits, the multiple American deaths entertaining Hitler no end.
The build-up is for Operation Kino, the blowing up of the cinema with the German High Command inside. Did it happen? Does it happen? Could it have happened? That's not for a reviewer to say!
The film is spoken in English, French and German (and some bad Italian accent on purpose from Brad Pitt) with more than half the film sub-titled (which will be an interesting challenge for US marketing). A number of German actors are cast, including an impessively alarming performance from Christoph Walz as Colonel Lando. The film also stars Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger and August Diehl.
I think it is going to be discussed by critics and public for some time.
Out 20th August Madman
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.