The French countryside is famous for its art, cinema, wine and food. Though, during the Second World War, the beauty of the nation was suppressed by fear and depression, as Germany invaded and occupied France. Soldiers patrolled the streets. German officers claimed their place as superiors to the French population, and revolutionaries were forced into hiding, or desperate countermeasures.
Colonel Hans Landa was one of the German officers who regularly patrolled France, charming and frightening his enemies and comrades alike. The master interrogator, fluent in at least four languages, knew how to get through the layers of security and subterfuge a person may have constructed. Despite their efforts, Landa, nicknamed “the Jew hunter”, could weed out any secret.
The film opens with a sequence showing Landa’s brilliant charm and use of his verbal and non-verbal tools to illicit a confession from a farm owner in the outskirts of Paris. Landa’s men slaughter most of the inhabitants, save one young girl named Shoshanna. And so, the carousel begins…
Lt. Aldo Raine is the leader of a squad of American soldiers, known to the enemy as “The Basterds.” Raine and his men are known for scalping their dead enemies, and leaving a calling card on the few Nazis they allow to survive. Their mission is to take down Hitler and his top officers, through spy work, espionage, or some good old-fashioned brutality, as the situation commands.
As the Basterds are hacking and slugging their way through France, romance is brewing in Paris. Fredrick Zoller, a decorated Nazi war veteran, is smitten with the young, beautiful blonde who owns a cinema. Zoller is so enamored that he convinces Joseph Goebbels, (Hitler’s right hand man and the head of Nazi propaganda), to host the premiere of his film, “Nation’s Pride, “in her theatre.
Soon, the German Nazi elite, the revolution against them, a British double agent and the Basterds are all en route to a climax that mixes shoot ‘em up films, spy flicks, war movies and side-splitting comedy. The results are pure Tarantino.
Brad Pitt is at his best when he plays quirky, off-the-wall, almost unbelievable characters. His resume’ speaks for itself – Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys, Mickey O’Neill in Snatch, and, of course, Tyler Durden in Fight Club. When Tarantino needed an American officer, leading a small band of soldiers in Nazi-occupied France, why not call on the versatile and experienced actor? Pitt chews through his dialogue with a thick, southern-fried accent that’s humorous enough in English…let alone Italian.
Christoph Waltz (in his first American film appearance) is giddy, insightful and a delight as Landa. He is consistently a cut above those he interrogates, and uses just enough narcissism to offset his charm. Melanie Laurent (Shoshanna/Mme. Mimeux) is forced to extreme measures of fear and vengeance, and mixes them with the daily guise of indifference she uses to hide her true identity.
The complimentary Basterds are all fun, with Cabin Fever’s Eli Roth (Donny Donowitz) and Keinohrhausen’s Til Schweiger (Hugo Stiglitz) getting the most outrageous lines. The supporting cast is equally solid, with cameos ranging from Austin Powers’ Mike Myers to The Time Machine’s Rod Taylor.
Tarantino’s film is a consistent, accelerating spiral. (Think of the round thing at the mall where you drop a penny and it begins to travel in wide, slow circles. The circles grow smaller, and the coin grows faster, winding up in a tight, fast frenzy.) The spiral begins with Landa’s first appearance, and as characters and motivations are introduced, each player begins their unavoidable pull to the center. In the end, all the players are involved, and interacting at a pace none of them can control.
DVD extras include extended and alternate scenes, including the story of Donowitz (aka “The Bear Jew”) and his bat. The film “Nation’s Pride” is included as a short film (directed by Roth). Also included are trailers for additional Universal releases. The movie runs 2 hours and 33 minutes and is presented in 2.20:1 format. Languages include English (Dolby 5.1), Spanish and French. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French.
The film’s official page is www.inglouriousbasterds-movie.com