Brad Pitt has the movie's final line. I won't spoil the ending, but he looks deep into the camera and declares what he's just done to be his masterpiece. Cue the credits, and an immediate flash of the words 'Quentin Tarantinto'; the obvious inference being; “I am the artist, bow down peasants before my crowning glory”. Or somesuch. Anyone who knows Tarantino's work knows that the man has a sense of humour, but he's begging the question.
Inglourious Basterds (Dir: Quentin Tarantino)
So, I'm not going to beat around the bush. No, Inglorious Basterds isn't Tarantino's masterpiece. It is, however, a fantastic film, a wonderfully entertaining romp through cinema and a satisfying return to form for the director.
To be frank, Tarantino's had a bit of a squiffy period over the last few years. His last films have been, well, a little patchy. Kill Bill (parts one and two), was magnificent in parts but was ultimately much too long and got, quite frankly, a bit boring for long periods (particularly in the second installment). Not to mention Death Proof, which despite having one of the most fantastic opening hours out of any film I've ever seen, ends up a horrible, mangled abortion of a movie. Urgh.
That's part of the reason why Basterds is such a relief. Tarantino has gone on record as saying the film is closer to Pulp Fiction that anything he's done recently. I don't agree. Pulp Fiction, whilst a great film, came over as somewhat flabby, a little rambling in parts. Whilst that's what you get with Quentin, and that's part of the reason I love him so, Basterds feels a little more like Jackie Brown – a strong, satisfying narrative that all comes together in a pleasing way.
The film tells the story of a group of Nazi hunters in France in WW2, let by the renegade Aldo the Apache (Brad Pitt). They become embroiled in an Allied plan to end the war by massacring the senior German leadership in a plan called Operation Kino. Unbeknownst to them, there's a parallel plan, masterminded by Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a French-Jewish cinema owner.
As ever, Tarantino's character development leaves a lot to be desired. Pitt (as he often seems to be) is disappointing – he's all about funny accents and a worrying dead-eyed stare in this one, and Laurent's character is the only one that an audience can really emote with. That said, Christoph Waltz's charmingly vicious 'Jew Hunter', Hans Landa is a true triumph in comic book villany.
At its essence, the film is all about the plot. Even the Basterds themselves don't come across as a team, a group, that development is abandoned early on. The narrative is about the plots, the resolutions and the inevitable twists and turns along the way.
That said, whilst the action hurtles towards a barnstorming finish, the film is full of showstopingly cinematic moments, the type of thing that Tarantino does so well, no matter how ropey the film (Butterfly's lapdance for Stuntman Mike in Death Proof being a case in point) and Inglorious Basterds is brimming with them: the first scene of the film introducing Landa, a magnificent set-piece in a beer cellar and the final denouement of Operation Kino.
Whilst on one level, its a backslapping movie about the Allies (inevitably) bashing the Nazis, it also succeeds on a more thoughtful level, and for me at least, this is Tarantino's true triumph. As much as it is a WW2 western about good overcoming evil, it is (perhaps even in some small part in a way similar to Antichrist) it is a self-consciously postmodern tribute to the redemptive power of cinema.
The clues are there – Operation Kino is, at its very centre a plan to use film (the senior Nazis are in Paris for the premiere of a propaganda film) as the cover for a war-ending slaughter of the Fuhrer and his pals; the two main female leads are a French/Jewish cinema owner and a German film star; the explosives used to kick off the killing are flammable film reels themselves. The most telling clue to what Tarantino is really up to comes with a film-within-a-film, made by Dreyfus and hauntingly shown to the captive Nazis as the slaughter begins, which literally allows her to have the last laugh. In a nutshell, film is the force, despite having been corrupted for propaganda purposes by Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl, that has the power to make a real, positive change.
Without wanting to disappear into my polo neck, I'll leave it there. Inglorious Basterds is a glorious piece of cinema. Quentin, its nice to have you back.