To my deepest recollection, I cannot think of a scene from any film that fuses Hitchcock’s notions of thrill and suspense together better than the first scene of Quentin Tarantino’s marvelous, determined new film Inglourious Basterds.
Set in Nazi-occupied France, Inglourious Basterds is a fresh, albeit fantasized, version of the last Great War. Brad Pitt is Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of a Jewish group of badasses set out to get even with Nazi scum. Raine’s message, if you can decipher it through Pitt’s hilariously befuddled backwords-ass-redneck-chargin, is simple: their gonna be killin’ NAZ-ehhs.
But wait, as is often with a Tarantino film, the “main” character is hardly main at all, in fact, Pitt is absent for several scenes at a time. But not in vain. In his place are a slew of other well-defined Tarantino characters. A timid movie theatre owner who sees a chance to change the world, a German actress set on deceiving her side, and a Nazi officer so miraculously evil and comically menacing, that the actor playing him, Christoph Waltz, is destined to be remembered come Oscar time. Waltz (who won best actor for this role at the Cannes Film Festival in May) is a name you’re going to remember. He’s what makes that first scene work so seamlessly.
I don’t want to indulge too much of the plot, but needless to say, all of these characters will run into each other at some point, much to their dismay but to our delight. Having said that, Inglourious Basterds is like, and unlike, any film Tarantino has done before. Sure you can expect his long-winded dialogue that seems to go nowhere, then out of the blue, with one line or even a single word, the entire conversation comes into focus. Sure it’s violent, but not nearly as gruesome as his previous work. And yes, you can expect a pulp-pleasant soundtrack to fit the visual images perfectly.
But how this film differs form the rest of QT’s resume is what makes it a marvel. Be warned: the scenes in Inglourious Basterds are quite long. Characters verbally meander about milk, movies, maps, scalps, and so on. But it’s evident that for this film, Tarantino has taken direct influence from Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick, known for his painstakingly long scenes, always knew the precise moment to end a scene. Right after a brilliant, unassuming line of dialogue, BOOM, Kubrick would cut to a new conversation, with new characters, in a completely different setting. It’s what made Kubrick, Kubrick. And here, I’m happy to say, that's what makes Tarantino, Tarantino.
Is Inglourious Basterds better than Pulp Fiction? Of course not (but for my money, most films aren’t.) In fact, I’m not sure if Inglourious Basterds is the film to convert Tarantino novices into Tarantino fanatics. (Case in point: this film isn’t a history lesson, you’re in Tarantino’s world, so roll with it). But, if you’re already a Tarantino fan, get ready to have your socks knocked off. Either way, you’re in for the most thrilling, enjoyable Hollywood film of the season. A