Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to the cinephile community. Ever since the auteur made the one-two punch of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, he has always been a writer/director everyone strives to be, in a similar league of legends as Hitchcock and Scorsese. While Pulp Fiction is everyone’s go to film when talking about essential films and Tarantino’s best, I stand by my opinion that his 2009 war film Inglourious Basterds is his best film. With its tenth anniversary coming up, I thought it would be fun to revisit the film and talk about why it might just be his masterpiece.
The movie sets the tone right away with its first chapter, titled “Once Upon a Time… in Nazi Occupied France”. SS Colonel Hans Landa visits a French dairy farm where he interrogates a father concerning the whereabouts of the Dreyfus family, the last unaccounted for Jewish family in the area. Though the scene lasts for 15-20 minutes, it establishes two important factors that propel this film.
The first element is that the film has a lot of tension. The opening scene eventually pans down to beneath the floorboards to show that farmer is in fact hiding a Jewish family. Landa is quick to figure this out and negotiates with the farmer, eventually confirming the location of the Dreyfus family. All of them die except for one, the daughter Shosanna. Later on in the film, the tension goes up more when Shosanna runs into Landa once again. Later, when a British Lieutenant named Archie Hicox goes undercover having a drink with some Nazis at a tavern, tensions rise even more due to his unusual accent and mannerisms.
The second factor is the character of Hans Landa. When awards season came around, the then unknown Christoph Waltz received almost every supporting actor award for his role as the Nazi colonel. Tarantino was reportedly ready to give up on the movie because the part required the actor to speak multiple languages. Waltz nails this aspect with equal parts evil and charming and I couldn’t help but smile every time he was on screen.
Not to be outdone, the stacked cast shines alongside Waltz. Among them are Brad Pitt as as the leader of Jewish-American soldiers known as the “basterds”, Michael Fassbender as a fellow “basterd” plotting to blow up a theater full of Nazis, Diane Kruger as an undercover agent/film star Bridget von Hammersmark, and Mélanie Laurent as the aforementioned Shosanna, who later in the film is seen running a movie theater.
Of course, essential to every Tarantino film is his screenplay. It’s been said many times that Quentin has a knack for dialogue and it especially shows in this film. He plays around with history and structures the film like Pulp Fiction except set during World War II. Pitt and Waltz have some of my favorite lines during the movie. His choice to include French and German dialogue is pretty ambitious for a mainstream film, but Tarantino makes it work thanks to his stellar direction.
The movie spreads the screen-time of the principal actors about as equally as could be. By far the most interesting storyline is the one focusing on Shosanna four years after her family was killed. By this point, she goes by the name Emmanuelle Mimieux. She meets a German war hero by the name of Fredrick Zoller, who is starring in a Nazi propaganda film headed by the infamous Joseph Goebbels. Zoller convinces Goebbels to hold a premiere of the film at Shosanna’s theater, which leads to her eventual reunion with Hans Landa. This sets up a third act confrontation that proves once again that it’s always better to end with a bang.
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Tarantino makes some of the best films of all time. When watching this movie, I can’t help but think of Brad Pitt’s final line in the film after carving another swastika into the forehead of a Nazi…
“You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece.“