The first and perhaps most important thing to know about Quentin Tarantino’s highly anticipated Inglourious Basterds, which opens Friday, is that it is NOT a remake of Enzo Castellari’s 1978 film of an almost identical name.
In fact, some might question if it is even a war film in the traditional sense, despite it being set in World War II and focusing mainly on action in Nazi-occupied France.
But Tarantino acknowledges straying far afield here both thematically and historically, with the movie being influenced more by spaghetti westerns and French New wave filmmaking than any homage to vintage war epics.
But it does have one common characteristic of all Tarantino productions: extreme violence. The modus operandi of “The Basterds,” a group of Jewish American soldiers sworn to take revenge on the Nazis for atrocities against their European comrades, is to cut off the scalp of every dead Nazi soldier.
This group is one of two separate outfits seeking to kill Adolf Hitler. There’s also a lone wolf named Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), whose entire family was killed by Hans Landa, the so-called “Jew Hunter.” She’s driven through the rest of the film to find this person and perform her own personal vengeance mission.
Adding to the revisionist sensibility is Tarantino’s decision to offer an alternate history scheme, with a host of German leaders, including Hitler, Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann attending a film premiere in Paris that cinematically chronicles the exploits of a German sniper whose kill count in Italy has exceeded 250.
Over the film’s 149 minutes, Tarantino weaves in and out of five different periods in both Germany and France, connecting things at various points, while still telling two distinct, yet related stories.
Because there are so many elements and events, trailers have only been able to show those portions that the studio hopes will hook audiences. One of them involves the recruitment scene with Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) addressing prospective members of the Inglourious Basterds and informing them that he wants eight men, each of whom must deliver him 100 scalps or perish in the effort.
Aside from Pitt’s exaggerated Southern accent, which has been the source of much online discussion among focus group members who’ve attended test screenings (there was no critics’ screening in Nashville), there’s been great debate over Tarantino’s casting of Pitt in this role.
However, there’s been even more discussion and speculation regarding Mike Myers portraying General Ed Fenech, a key member of the English command, as well as having a major member of the operation, Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), be a film critic in his civilian life. That move allows Tarantino to take some pot shots at critics — one of his favorite targets — during a scene featuring a conversation film between Hicox and Winston Churchill (Rod Taylor).
This was the only American film to win any awards at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival (Christoph Waltz earned Best Actor honors). It also looms as perhaps the biggest Quentin Tarantino production from both an artistic and commercial standpoint since the days of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the films that made him a household name.
So despite the length, historical liberties and what some see as excessive violence, Inglourious Basterds is easily this week’s standout film.
Written and directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Daniel Bruhl, Til Schweiger, Rod Taylor, Samuel L. Jackson
Time: 149 minutes