The opening 10 minutes of directorial master Quentin Tarantino's decade-in-the-making World War II film Inglourious Basterds contain everything you need to know about the film and about Tarantino's intentions. Gone are the archival Shaw Scope logos of Kill Bill and the frantic surf-rock of Pulp Fiction's iconic credit sequence. Instead, Basterds opens on a beautiful wide shot of an open field, the dairy farm of a Frenchman who happens to be hiding a Jewish family under his floorboards. The man is visited by the 'Jew Hunter,â?� an eerily calm and polite SS colonel (this year's Cannes-winning Christoph Waltz), and the two sit down and engage in a long conversation touching on everything except what they're really talking about: the whereabouts of the Jewish family.
This is a trademark technique for Tarantino, who always delights in the art of misdirection via dialogue. But this scene is different. The farmer and the colonel aren't busy popping off pop-culture references or diatribes about potbellies. Their means of diversion comes from a place of mundane courtesies and throwaway compliments, of one-upsmanship in relation to the size of their tobacco pipes ' a purely visual joke, which is a new and welcome development for Tarantino's craft. By the time guns start blazing and we watch the lone survivor from the family, Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent), escape into the woods followed by a tracking camera that would make David Lean smile, it's clear that we're dealing with a matured Tarantino.
In writing the screenplay for Inglourious Basterds ' Tarantino has admitted that Kill Bill was a procrastination exercise from this, his real work ' the edgy maestro has claimed that it grew out of his control, too ambitious and all-encompassing for its own good. The theatrical version of Basterds shows his prowess for self-editing. It is a scaled-down affair with an A-story almost entirely in German and French (shot on location, as well) that focuses on that escaped Jew, now passing herself off as a French gentile cinema owner with revenge on her mind, and the Nazi-turned-movie star who falls for her. This strand takes its cues from the French New Wave, and its power lies in Tarantino's lush storytelling and casually cool leisure.
Popping up occasionally for a jolt of adrenaline are the Basterds, a Guns of Navarone'like crew of Jewish-American badasses on the hunt for Nazi scalps. Brad Pitt stars as Lt. Aldo Raine, a deeply accented Tennessee man who models his leadership after the Apache tribe. Their story could not be simpler ' they successfully kill or maim dozens, maybe hundreds, of Nazi officers ' or more effective at breaking up the tension, especially Pitt's riotously funny delivery. Eventually, the Basterds' mission dovetails with Shoshanna's, and together they propel us into a fiery climax that rewrites history as much as it reshuffles Tarantino's deck of narrative tricks.
Like his other films, Inglourious Basterds is broken up into 'chapters.â?� Individually, they do not live up to the groundbreaking inventiveness for which Tarantino has been worshipped for more than a decade. However, Basterds is his fullest, richest and most complete novel. He presides over the tough material with the confidence of an artist who is done trying to impress everyone with gimmicks. It reminds me of a quote from pulp novelist Raymond Chandler: 'I get panned for being tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, and then when I try to tone down a bit â?¦ I get panned for leaving out what I was panned for putting in the first time.â?� Tarantino has already endured exactly that from early Basterds critics, but he won't find it here.