“Basterds” An Inglorious Effort by Tarantino
The movie, in part, follows a group of United States soldiers in Nazi occupied France, known only as The Basterds. They are an ultra effective, ultra violent fighting squad with one mission: to kill as many Nazis as humanly possible. Brad Pitt convincingly plays their leader, a serious man who loves his job, but rarely shows it. When he orders his men to collect 100 Nazi scalps each, there is not much joy in his voice, just the seriousness of describing a necessary aspect of the job.
Meanwhile in a subplot somewhere, revenge is brewing.
The film opens in France, 1941, in a small pastoral scene. Colonel Hans Landa, of the S.S., is in charge of locating Jewish families in hiding. He visits the house of a French milk farmer to question him about the neighboring families. This scene is Tarantino writing in top form. The scene is long, but dramatically so.
Tension builds as the motive of the characters become clearer. Landa, played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz, is a manipulative and amoral figure. He is so sure of himself that he seems incapable of fear. After he concludes that there is, in fact, a Jewish family hiding in the house, he calmly, and with businesslike ease, orders their execution. One girl, however, flees.
That girl is Shosanna (Melanie Laurent). The film then finds her three years later, where she now owns a cinema. She meets a Nazi war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), who becomes enamored with her. He is so infatuated that he convinces Joseph Goebbels to hold the premiere of his new film, “A Nation’s Pride”, about and starring Zoller, at Shosanna’s cinema.
The two distinct plots of the film then meet. Shosanna wishes revenge on the Nazi’s for what they did to her family, so she decides to host the premiere. The Basterds want to get into the premiere because, well, it’s what they do.
There are many great scenes in this film and for the most part Tarantino’s script is incredibly constructed. His characters have a distinctly delicious way of leading each other on, manipulating them, and spelling things out for them, which make his dialogue so savory. This is Tarantino doing what he does best; writing cool, manipulative, tense dialogue. One small flaw with the script is an occasional voice over narration, a device rarely used by Tarantino, which comes in sporadically and clumsily, and stands out in the otherwise impeccable narrative.
Unfortunately in this film, Tarantino the director betrays Tarantino the writer. He adds a stylistic flair to his films through many cinematic devices. In this particular film, he has sacrificed none of these characteristics of the Tarantino style. This is the greatest weakness of “Basterds”.
There is still all the gloss and slickness of a Tarantino film, but the style clashes with the subject matter. The final act of a film is set to David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” but it takes place in 1944, approximately 38 years before the song’s publication. This tends to make one’s brain hurt. Most importantly, Tarantino must admit that he does not make action movies. He is excellent at making an action-filled movie, but he stresses the violence and action of this movie a little more than he should.
Tarantino’s films have become increasingly less serious as the years go by. He’s gone from absolute masterpieces like “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” to fair movies such as “Death Proof” and “Basterds”.
This film is not bad, and even a sub par Tarantino film has a lot to offer. But Tarantino is not working to his full capacity. This film, which has beautifully tense and serious moments, is not a serious feeling film (take note of the ending). Maybe this is Tarantino’s goal, but it seems to fall a bit flat. He is capable of making films that do everything this one does, but better.