Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
In 2009, Christoph Waltz starred in his first major American film, Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” And I, for one, am thankful he did. The Austria-born actor (with fewer muscles and more talent than our other favorite native Austrian, Mr. Schwarzenegger) has since starred in Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and other roles both award-winning and dumbly popular (I’m looking at you, super-cool “Green Hornet”), but he’ll always be known as the Basterds’ enemy, “the Jew Hunter,” and “Inglourious Basterds” was all the more glorious for it.
The Basterds (led by Brad Pitt, but including BJ Novak, Eli Roth, and Til Schweiger) are Americans sent behind WWII enemy lines to kill as many Nazis as they can find. Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) is a Jewish cinema owner in the heart of Nazi-occupied France whose theater is about to be used to host a slew of Nazi leaders for a propaganda film. Colonel Hans Landa (Waltz) has a reputation for finding French Jews and giving them the punishment they deserve. When the Basterds hear about the gathering of Nazi leaders (including Landa and the Fuhrer himself) in Shosanna’s cinema, nothing will stop them from finding a way in. But in a battle of wits (and lots of guns), which side ultimately has the upper hand?
After a career that included “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown,” and “Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2,” Quentin Tarantino hit a peak with “Inglourious Basterds” (and then, in my opinion, hit it again with “Django”). The Jew vs. Nazi revenge story (like the slave vs. master story of “Django”) is one we can all get behind. It’s a thrill to watch. And the Oscar-nominated screenplay doesn’t hurt. A dialogue-heavy script, typical for Tarantino, benefits from a chapter format that treats “Basterds” like a soap opera. It’s absolutely compelling, even though you have to read your way through three-fourths of it. It keeps getting better until the exciting climax blows the whole thing out of the water.
Tarantino also has a way of balancing his stories in a way that gives several main characters the screen-time they deserve. Brad Pitt gives perhaps the most memorable performance of his career. A masterful mix of humor and menace. Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger give similarly incredible performances in their few scenes together. Did I mention Michael Fassbender plays a British spy that assists the Basterds? Yeah. Just got even better. And of course, Christoph Waltz’s performance makes it hard to hate his Nazi character.
Cult appeal like no other. 8 Oscar nominations. “Inglourious Basterds” is one for the history books.