Quentin Tarantino is a modern cinematic master. Starting from a young age, Tarantino displayed an innate grasp of the characteristics of an outstanding film, and he has carried this talent later into his career. I make this statement sparingly; his career could hardly be considered in its “late” stages.
However, his mastery of film is, in my opinion, nearly unrivaled. No American filmmaker, to my knowledge, comes even remotely close to the perfect pairing of cinematography, storytelling, acting, and score that seems second nature to Tarantino. Only Scorcese comes to mind as a possible rival. This statement actually provides an insightful analogy: A Tarantino offering is a bit like a Scorcese flick with a better soundtrack. In this day and age that legitimately makes a difference.
Tarantino’s latest, Inglourious Basterds (a tad bit humorously executive-produced by the Weinstein Brothers), is yet another testament to the above. Previews of the film suggest a violent action film in the vein of Kill Bill yet, perhaps to some viewers’ dismay, this is not what is delivered. Sure, it has its share of over-the-top violence, and sure, it is a decidedly anti-Nazi revenge flick, but to my surprise, the film is propelled by the flaws of its characters on both sides of the table. Just when you expect the massive Frenchman to pull out a hammer and crush the Nazi general across the table, instead he sheds a tear and reveals the location of a sought after objective. Right when one thinks a Basterd has a Nazi right where he wants him, he finds a handgun aimed directly at the family jewels.
The film continues like this throughout its runtime – one unexpected misstep leading to the next until its ultimate, graphic yet subdued conclusion. My own personal highlight is an interlude linking prior events with the arrival of the climax – a beautiful scene featuring Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus preparing for the inescapable fate she conceived for herself, set against the perfectly placed “Cat People” by David Bowie and Italian producer Giorgio Moroder, responsible for the controversial, mid ‘80s musical re-edit of the classic German film Metropolis.
Speaking of German, the film features almost exclusively German, French, and English actors, for which it deserves credit. The lack of more recognizable faces makes the viewer focus more on the actual meat of the film than what some particular actor might be doing. The second most recognizable face to Pitt’s is probably that of B.J. Novak, best known for his work on The Office. Also be on the lookout for “appearances” by Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel.
Basterds is not without its pitfalls. It features one, and only one, of Tarantino’s famous character introductions. While undeniably entertaining, the scene (or at least the scene’s flamboyant intro) is starkly out of place in the absence of a single introductory cut scene to accompany it. Finally, the film’s denouement, although in keeping with an interspersed lightheartedness that accompanies nearly all of Brad Pitt’s scenes, closely resembles one of the more poignant scenes from the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing¸ a masterpiece in its own right. To a keen eye the two films share more in common than I can divulge here. Even bringing this up borders on nitpicking; this is a beautiful, nearly flawless film, and is not to be missed.