Quentin Tarantino has a huge a monkey on his back called Pulp Fiction. Pulp was game-changing film-making and the ripples created by that film have become so mainstream that people forget just how astonishing the movie was when it was released. It was a game changer. No director working today has as unique a stamp as Tarantino. Yet despite that significant accomplishment every subsequent release of his unfairly holds the hope that maybe, just maybe, this one will be better than the number five film of all time (according to IMDB). Well folks, sorry to disappoint you, but despite numerous cinephile worthy flourishes, Basterds doesn’t knock Pulp off its pedestal. It is however, one entertaining film, that rates as one of Tarantino’s best.
All the Tarantino signature touches are here. Quirky soundtrack, slow-burn suspense, graphic violence, unexpected humor, camera acrobatics, referential dialogue requiring an understanding of German Film history (this time), and at least one Oscar-worthy performance in the character of “Jew hunter” Col. Hans Landa (played by multi-lingual German TV actor Christoph Waltz). Waltz walks the line between being terrifying and absurd at the same time – you can’t help but be mesmerized by him. This is a great role and an even better characterization. Nominate him please!
The plot? Not really important. Suffice to say part of it involves a Jewish Dirty Dozen on a mission to collect as many Nazi scalps as possible who just happen to intersect with a plan to murder all the Nazi brass (including Hitler and Goebbels) in a cinema in occupied-France owned by a fugitive Jew who fled from Landa -who was drinking the aforementioned glass of milk. This all leads to arson and an epic gun battle where Hitler satisfyingly gets mowed down by a machine gun by one of the basterds. None of this really matters because what Tarantino excels at is providing memorable scenes, each with his indelible stamp of nuance. The plot is secondary.
The opening scene, an homage to the spaghetti Westerns of Leone, is masterful piece of suspense that simultaneously introduces the story and characters. Few writers could craft such a scene because the “reveal” involves a camera trick which only a seasoned director would be thinking about. This is the most stunning scene every produced involving a glass of milk.
Equally stunning is another surprising Brad Pitt performance at Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of the basterds. Pitt shows once again to be an actor with formidable comedic chops making us laugh at all the wrong times and simultaneously sucking us in to the plot and character. His entrance into the film is one of the great ones.
The movie is too long, some of the dialogue too obscure, and there are some missed opportunities (particularly with Hitler) but really, who cares? For Tarantino it’s all about providing entertainment, and if you love movies, there is plenty to love here.