A Quinton Tarantino movie is one that meticulously casted, filled with expansive dialogue and the promise of breathtaking action.
Inglourious Basterds (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, $26.98) is no exception.
Tarantino’s redo of the 1978’s Italian film “Quel Maledetto Rreno Blindato” (Enzo G. Castellari), is in true Q.T. style as it quickly clips along introducing viewers to a cast of characters that rotate through the films various planes, bringing their individual threads together to weave a tale that leaves us on the edge of our seats.
Tarantino version of the WWII revisionist tale provides a slightly different story than its predecessor, however they both present situations in which individuals take actions that under other circumstances would have been unthinkable.
Inglorious Bastards’ tone quickly ramps up as we are introduced to Lt. Hans Landa (Christoph Walz), a Nazi Intel officer and evil jack-of-all-trades.
Landa and a small troop of men arrive at the dairy farm of Pierre LaPadite (Denis Menochet) in Nancy, France where the dairy farmer and his three daughters quietly live.
The Nazi’s goal is to find, and kill, the Jewish dairy farming family that he knows LaPadite is hiding.
Walz is a master in this movie delicately developing a game of cat and mouse with LaPadite. Language, foreign languages play a big part in this film, and Landa and LaPadite move from German to French to English before returning to French, making the threat he and his heavily armed men pose to the gentle farmer and his beautiful daughters, very clear yet without ever speaking a harsh word.
It is an incredible scene that firmly sets the films infrastructure and our interests.
n his role as LaPadite, Denis Menochet is brilliant providing a performance that will hopefully led to future films. The anguish of the decision he must make is heart wrenching. The decision of Landa is heart breaking.
The farmer chooses life for his family. The officer demands death for those he sought.
Here we also meet the films female protagonist, Sosanna Dreyfus (Mèlanie Laurent), whose life is horrifically impacted by the decisions the farmer and the Colonial make.
Here again the casting of the film meshes well with the story, offering an incredible performance by Laurent in which she embraces this role while the repulsion we feel for her situation moves the story forward, like a train heading toward a magnificent collision that we just have to watch.
One cannot even hope this will end well for her.
Enter Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) a Nazi-hunting soldier – descended from an Apache warrior – from Maynardville, Tennessee.
Pitt seems to be channeling a cocky Clark Gable manliness that is both endearing and hysterical.
His lack of concern, a total and complete insouciance in his manner, while interrogating a German officer – or determining a spy’s loyalty – creates a character destined for movie clip history.
It is Lt. Raine’s task to recruit an elite team of American-Jewish soldiers for a special OSS unit – the Inglorious Basterds an audacious groups whose sole and primary purpose is to kill Nazis while spreading a message of terror throughout the German ranks.
In a powerful foreshadowing of the carnage to ensue, each man in the group is told he owes Raine “100 Nazi’s scalps,” offering a macabre homage to the Lieutenant’s heritage.
And this they do oh so dramatically.
One exquisite scene of anticipation introduces us to the field tactics of the Inglorious Basterds as Raine questions a captured Nazi Cpl. Wilhelm Wicki (Gedeon Burkhard) about the location and firepower of other Nazi troops in the area.
Rain is relaxed and confident, surrounded by his men with rifles shouldered and trained on the three Nazi soldiers that have survived their ambush.
Cpl. Wicki is defiant and loyal to the German cause making the decision to die a painful death at the hand of “The Bear Jew” – whom many German soldiers believe is the spirit of an angry Rabbi.
As the officer is “respectfully” declining to provide the information that would save his life, and in a particularly dramatic moment in the film, the audience hears the “Bear Jew,” Staff Sergeant Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) from off screen making his through a drain tunnel.
We know what is coming. The captured officer and his men know what is coming.
Lt. Raine and his men all know what is coming.
We are all anticipating this scene’s gruesome climax. Only we, the viewers, are the only ones that cannot believe it will happen.
The sound that Donowitz is making is the sound of something systematically tapping against wet, hollow cement walls.
It is the sound of the Louisville Slugger, signed by his fellow Jews in his Boston neighborhood, that Donowitz has brought to the battle ground in order to beat Nazi heads in.
It’s not pretty.
One of the other German servicemen decide to cooperate and reveal the position and armaments of the other Nazi troops and he is released. But not before Lt. Raine carves a swastika on his forehead so he can never “take off his uniform.”
The scene is dramatic and intense, especially when juxtaposed with the opening scene of the movie, an incredibly moving and heart wrenching study of power and weakness.
The first scalping scene is unexpected and graphic, shocking and revolting, but also riveting. It’s also not for the faint of stomach or young children.
The story itself is well written, and since it is not (even close to) historically accurate, there is no sense of “we know how this is going to end.”
Because we don’t.
Inglorious Basterds is a “What I Wish Had Happened to Adolf Hitler” tale that utilizes an accurate historical setting to tell an entirely fictional tale.
It follows well, with all the intrigue, black humor; plot twists, interesting details, and innuendo that are hallmarks of a Tarantino production.
And there is no need to cram it into a historically accurate film.
The Goods: While the movie is incredible, equally interesting are the ethical questions it raises.
For example, take the character of Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). Ms. Von Hammersmark is an acclaimed German actress who decides to become a spy for the Americans.
As a former intelligence officer, I often wonder what motivates someone to become a spy. Committing treason, even under horrifying conditions, is a difficult (understatement) choice.
What would it take for someone to commit espionage, to go against his or her country?
What would it take for you to betray the United States?
To actively undercut it and provide information to a foreign government? Once again, a decision that one would never want to make.
Within the film, Ms. Von Hammersmark must know that if she is caught she will not only be jailed, not only be killed, but heinously tortured for information before she is killed.
What motivates her to take that risk?
The Nazi officer…the dairy farmer…the German actress…choosing life over death, comfort over risk.
Another personal question that bubbled to my conscious from the characters in the film is who are you?
Do you stand up for what you believe, even when it’s hard?
Whether it’s hiding persecuted populations at huge personal risk or strapping dynamite to your legs (sure-fire suicide) to ensure the destruction of evil personified, or committing treason for the greater good, do you do it?
Take it down a notch.
When you’re in Target and see a parent smack a child, or hear someone lie, or hear a child treat a parent unkindly, do you stand up?
Do you admit your deficiencies, take responsibility for your mistakes, and argue against day-to-day actions that are just plain wrong? Or do we let them go, too jaded or tired or uninterested to take a stand? Is it too much work? Too inconvenient? Again, who are you?
Finally, the movie raises the question of relative violence.
Tarantino showed some graphic portrayals of American violence against Nazi’s.
Scalping, carving swastikas into foreheads, and burning the Nazi high command alive in a theater.
Interestingly, however, he showed none of the horrific violence we all know the Nazi’s committed. No concentration camp scenes, no real sense of the terrifying, nauseating violence.
Why? Why did he display atrocities by the good guys, cheered by audiences no doubt, but nothing to add to the already disgusting reputation of the Nazi’s?
And why is it that while many probably found the graphic gore unappetizing, few protested it or condemned it? Is it ok to use violence, even awful, ugly violence, when you’re a good guy? When you’re using it against monsters? No Geneva Convention here. And yet, it didn’t seem inappropriate or morally apprehensible. Is violence relative? Was Machiavelli right?
The bottom line: Tarantino and cast again deliver. The movie, the casting, the questions; Inglorious Basterds has it all. Go see it. And Quentin, write another movie soon, please.
Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds is both entertaining and thought provoking making it well worth the investment of time to watch.
The Bads: It’s Tarantino. It’s Pitt. It’s an ensemble cast that amazes the viewer at every turn. It’s an incredible soundtrack and cinematography. Absolutely nothing not to like. Gold. I tell you. This movie is gold.
No difficult decisions here.
The mandatory extras: As one would expect from a Tarantino film, the blu ray extras are a collection of fun memories from the filming as well as those expected extended and alternate scenes (HD, 12 minutes) include an extension of pivotal scenes in the film including a lunch sequence that bring Sosanna face to face with Landa, a longer cut of the La Louisiane card game, a pivotal scene that braids the stories multiple threads together, and an alternate lead-in to the premiere of Nation’s Pride the film event that brings this tale to a close.
Personally, I very much enjoyed Roundtable Discussion (HD, 31 minutes) as Tarantino and Pitt sit down for an engaging interview with Elvis Mitchell that gives both men ample opportunity to discuss the film, it lightning fast production the evolution of the script. It is always fascinating to hear Tarantino speak about character development and the final film.
I particularly enjoyed hearing them speak about how language was used in the film. German’s spoke German, the French, French and so on. At the core of any movie is words – and Tarantino respects them so very well.
Nation’s Pride (SD, 6 minutes) is the German propaganda film-within-the-film and the seminal event that brings all our characters – from Landa to Hammersmark, Sosanna to Lando Raine together for one conclusion.
The Making of Nation’s Pride (HD, 4 minutes) offers an amusing, tongue-in-cheek feature that has the characters discussing the development of Nation’s Pride, in much the same way Inglorious Basterds Roundtable Discussion does.
In full character, director Alois von Eichberg (Eli Roth), Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment & Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), actress/mistress Francesca Mondino (Julie Dreyfus), and actor/war hero Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) explore their propaganda piece and waxing on about its cinematic achievements.
The Original Inglorious Bastards (SD, 8 minutes) short offers a nod to director Enzo G. Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards and introduces the original cast and crew members who made cameos in Tarantino’s redeux.
And there is more. Much more. Get the blu ray. It’s worth the effort.