Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Rating: B

Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Star: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger

I had serious qualms about this going in. Would Tarantino deliver Nazis who chat about French cheeseburgers or Superman comics? Fortunately, the end product is significantly more-restrained than I feared in that direction. There are still some moments where it’s clear whose movie you are watching – a creator too much in love with the words he has written, choosing to extend the scene beyond its purpose – but most of these do not grate. Instead, it’s largely a solid war movie, pitting the team of Jewish Nazi killers, led by 1st Lt Aldo Rein (Pitt), against “Jew hunter” Colonel Hans Landa (Waltz). The latter is running security for a film premiere in Paris, to be attended by every Nazi bigwig, but doesn’t know that the owner of the cinema (Laurent), watched her family get slaughtered, on Landa’s orders, four years previously, and has revenge on her mind as a result.

There’s some massive historical revisionism at the end here, and I’m not too happy about that aspect: it’s a bit like making a ‘Nam film where America wins. The sudden shoehorning of David Bowie’s Cat People onto the soundtrack in occupied Paris is also a massive, typically Tarantinoesque self-indulgence, that completely destroys any period atmosphere. Of course, there are too many shots of Bridget von Hammersmart’s (Kruger) feet. Oh, look: there’s Mike Myers, getting to do his British accent again. And don’t even get me started on the illiterate title. All these are irritants which the film could easily have done without.

Fortunately, its strengths more than counterbalance these. The performances are very solid, led by Waltz, who provides a very human face of pure evil, and captures your full attention, as he does something as banal as ask for a glass of milk. Indeed, it’s an even-handed film, which largely avoids portraying the Nazis as cartoon villains (or, at least, no more cartoonish than Aldo’s squad). While some scenes are too long, they’re still engrossing, and the film’s hefty 155-minute running-time fairly whizzes past. Unlike most of his previous work, there’s not much need for an awareness of cinema history [even though this often led to irritation]. Indeed, the less you know about history, the better this might well play. As a straight-up action adventure, it does the job nicely.