Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane
Kruger, and Mélanie Laurent
As I left the theater following Inglourious Basterds, I overheard a young man say to his friend, "That's the best World War II movie I've ever seen." The question isn't whether or not this is the "best" anything. That first moment after a film, when you finally have a chance to discuss it, is almost always when you love or hate it most. We find ourselves talking in superlatives, almost irrationally. You've just been on a roller coaster ride; of course you're at the extreme position. The question is whether or not this is a WWII movie. Historically, artistically, no. It takes place in the 40s in Nazi-occupied France and there are soldiers, American, British, and German. But it doesn't enhance our understanding of the battle, the times, the climates, the nationalism, or even those fighting on the front lines. If you're putting it in a box based on the plot, Inglourious Basterds is a revenge flick, pure and simple. Of course, this is a Quentin Tarantino movie, and his films are very hard to put in a box. If you've seen Tarantino films before, you know how profane and violent they tend to be. It's cartoony and desensitized, sophomoric even. But in that sense and several others, Inglourious Basterds is QT's most sophisticated movie, and without question the most focused film he's ever written and directed. There is profanity, sure, but much less than on average, and there's violence, though much less than you would expect given these circumstances. It should also be pointed out that the violence punctuates the action, usually with an exclamation mark, but it is hardly the center of attention you might think it is. After all, this is a movie about Jewish-American soldiers deployed into France to kill as many Nazis as they can find. As an added bonus, their commanding officer, Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), has Apache blood, so the calling card of the Basterds is to take their fallen opponents' scalps. Sounds more violent than it is, though, in all honesty. Instead, what we get is trademark character development and clever, tireless dialogue by Tarantino. Because of his very specific style, his films have been indelibly quotable over the years. I don't think I walked away with a lot of memorable lines this time, a sign of how his characters are less about Quentin Tarantino and more about serving the story. Most people don't talk in quotes, you know. But the dialogue is rich, serviceable, and meaningful.