Cast: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger and Michael Fassbender
Direction: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds may well disappoint the diehard fans of his. For, the film is far less violent that just about every other work he has made till now. The raw sadism of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill or Death Proof is missing in Tarantino's latest work, up for a Best Picture Oscar along with nine other contenders. And, of course, those looking out for Brad Pitt will not see much of him in the movie, the screen time being hogged by Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent, two relatively unknown, but brilliant performers.
In a World War II epic that has less fact and a lot more fantasy, Waltz plays SS Colonel Hans Landa, the perfect epitome of evil hiding behind the veneer of a smile, broken by sly sarcasm and wily wit. Laurent plays his prey, Shosanna, who though escapes while the Jew Hunter, as he is notoriously known, massacres her family hiding under the floorboard of a sympathetic dairy farmer
Inglorious Basterds opens in an idyllic French village under German occupation, the sequence leading to the admission of guilt by the farmer sheltering the Jewish family and, finally, its decimation. The movie would traverse the full curve and end in the countryside, though on a less bloody note.
These two points are strung together by a set of vignettes that takes up 154 minutes in all. These episodes may not add up to a strong storyline, but they are kept vibrantly alive by an array of fascinating characters. Pitt's Lieutenant Aldo Rainen – in a sometimes garbled Tennessee accent – captains a group of 12 Jewish American soldiers, nicknamed Inglorious Basterds, whose mission is to fly behind enemy lines, kill Nazis and collect their scalps as
war trophies. One of the Basterds is a sergeant who bludgeons his victims with a baseball bat.
The plot gets into a more focussed mode when it shifts to Shosanna. Some years after her tragedy, she is running a theatre in Paris that incidentally becomes the venue for a German propaganda film premiere to be attended by Nazi leaders, including Goebbels and Hitler.
But before this finale, Tarantino would introduce us to yet another intriguing character, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a German double agent. In an absolutely riveting scene, we see how she and her friends are exposed by a party of drunken Nazis in an underground bar.
Inglorious Basterds rolls along with the help of this excellent ensemble, and Tarantino's hugely acknowledged writing and helming skills ensure that
there is not a single misplaced step or unnecessary expression or faulty line. In a grisly turn of events, he keeps drama suitably under his elbow, but yet manages to produce those electrifying moments of tension. In a definitive way, the "Basterds" are not really the heroes. Laurent and Kruger are. However, without Waltz the movie could well have been inglorious.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on the Oscars for many years.)