Inglourious Basterds is quite possibly the best film of Quentin Tarantino’s career. It’s certainly his strongest since 1994’s Pulp Fiction, but I can’t stop thinking that his latest film might be his masterpiece. It certainly felt that way as I was sitting in the theatre for its Canadian premier last night, which the director happened to drop by for – very cool to be in the same room as Tarantino. His excitement about the movie was palpable and his story about his favourite Canadian “eh” pretty darn funny too.
Inglourious Basterds has been in the works for years now. Tarantino would talk about it in almost every interview you’d come across, and names like Michael Madsen and Harvey Keitel were rumoured to star. And while it’s Brad Pitt rather than Madsen who’s taken the film’s lead, Inglourious Basterds is an ensemble piece, with not a bad performance to found.
In theory the story is simple. Inglorious Basterds is the tale of Jewish-American soldiers hunting down Nazis during World War II. But the movie is also a revenge flick. It’s a bit of a buddy picture. There are moments of comedy and instances of tense drama. You’ll find everything that’s great about Tarantino’s work over the past two decades in Inglourious Basterds.
Taking a page from The Player, apart from Brad Pitt’s role as “Aldo The Apache”, there are few if any familiar faces in Inglorious Basterds (“no stars!”). It’s a decision that serves the film well. It means the audiences experiences performances by Melanie Laurent as Shosanna, the film’s female lead, and the amazing Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, “The Jew Hunter”, without the baggage of familiarity. If Waltz doesn’t net himself at least a nomination for Best Supporting Actor come Oscar time, there is no justice in the film world. Director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel 1 & 2) also stands out as Donnie Donowitz, “The Bear Jew”, who kills Nazis with a baseball bat.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt genuinely excited about a Quentin Tarantino film. While my appreciation for Jackie Brown has grown with subsequent viewings, and while I’ve always seen the strength in films like Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 and Death Proof, something about all of them have been lacking in my mind. Especially with Death Proof, where the extended dialogue scenes that took up the first hour of that particular film seemed forced rather than natural. With Inglourious Basterds, not only does it feel like Tarantino is back on form, it seems as though he’s taken everything he’s learned about making movies and applied it to amazing results. Almost every “chapter” throughout the film could be a mini-movie on their own, but together they combine to form something spectacular.
Like all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, Inglorious Basterds isn’t for everyone. Some will be turned off by the violence; others by the subject matter. Some will think that at 2 1/2 hours the film is overlong. Others will miss the pop culture references that have been core pieces of previous Tarantino movies. That’s alright; Tarantino has never been for everyone. But in finally finishing a project that has been in the works for the better part of 10 years, the director has created what could go down as his crowning achievement.
I’d bet my scalp on it.