Once Upon A Time in Nazi-Occupied France…With these words, Quentin Tarantino begins an amazing fairytale of WWII revisionism. Told in five parts, Inglorious Basterds is the story of a squad of “Nazi hunters” calling themselves the basterds and a cinema owner named Shosanna Dreyfus. Together, they attempt a plan to take out Hitler himself. In getting to this point of the story, Tarantino puts together a series of seemingly unrelated sequences and characters, weaving them into a brilliant tapestry of storytelling with one of the best payoffs in a film all year.
Alternating between unbelievable suspense, laugh-out-loud humor (mostly provided by Brad Pitt’s over-the-top portrayal of Basterd leader Lt. Aldo Raine), and over-the-top action, Inglorious Basterds is moviemaking at it’s best, and nothing short of a masterpiece. Much of the story takes place in Dreyfus’ cinema, and as I was watching, I began to realize just how much the story was influenced by Tarantino’s own love of film. It’s unusual to see the work of a filmmaker with such passion for what they do.
Although the film runs over two and half hours, I never found myself losing interest. This is one of the rare films I could watch again and again just the artistry on display. The way the story builds to its genius finale is a real treat to watch, and all the performances are brilliant. In fact, Christoph Waltz gives the best performance of the year as Col. Hans Landa, “The Jew Hunter.” Calm and methodical, this is one of those performances that you just can’t get out of your head. It’s a subtle performance, and it’s terrifying.
With a film as good as this, I’d be recommending the new Blu-Ray release even without any extras. However, there are a few reasonably entertaining features. By far, the best of these is a round-table discussion with Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino, and journalist Elvis Mitchell. It’s a very informal discussion where several aspects of the production are discussed, ranging from casting to Pitt’s ridiculous accent. Watching Tarantino discuss the concept of film provides a great reminder that there are people out there making movies for the love of it, and not just as a business.
While this is the most interesting extra on the set, the most entertaining is a brief making-of the Nazi propaganda film within the film, Nation’s Pride. Directed by Eli Roth (who also stars as one of the Basterds), we only get glimpses of Nation’s Pride in the actual movie, but that doesn’t stop them from including a hilarious behind-the-scenes look. This segment serves as a brilliant spoof on everything that I hate about making-of features on a DVD. They treat the short as a real film, and the pretentiousness and self-congratulatory praise with which they discuss their work provides as sharp a satire as I’ve seen in a long time. Also included is the entire six-minute film, which is actually a fascinating companion piece to the real movie.
Unfortunately, the rest of the extras are pretty forgettable. There are the usual extended and alternate scenes, although I found the film perfect as is, and wouldn’t want any additional scenes added. Also included is a segment on the original Inglorious Basterds; a film with nothing but the title and a very clever cameo in common. The star of the original appears briefly in Tarantino’s film, and there is a short segment touching upon this. The set is rounded out with a couple of interviews with Rod Taylor, who played Winston Churchill, and an exploration of the use of film posters within the movie. Normally, I would be interested in a segment like that, but this documentary proved unusually dull.
I have always been a fan of Tarantino, and it really feels as if every one of his movies is better than the one before. He is a highly unusual filmmaker, and one gets a sense that he really doesn’t care about the business side of the industry. Watching one of his films is a reminder of what movies are capable of. As we’re heading into award season, I truly hope that this film gets the recognition it deserves. While there have been some great movies this year, I can’t think of anything else that has proved as memorable or as entertaining.