Watching Nazis get what’s coming to them never gets old.
Maybe that’s the secret sauce to what makes “Inglourious Basterds” so satisfying despite its graphic violence and intense subject matter. Quentin Tarantino really outdid himself with his seventh directorial effort, crafting a film that’s equal parts hilarious, horrifying and genuinely cathartic.
And yet, some folks had trouble with “Basterds” upon its release on August 21, 2009. They bristled at its visceral scalping scenes, its sometimes jovial tone — a far cry from that of most WWII depictions — and, most divisively, its extreme revisionist history.
It’s almost the 10th anniversary of the “Basterds,” so let’s revisit Tarantino’s strange, polarizing, incredibly entertaining achievement. It wasn’t Tarantino’s first revenge fantasy, but it is his best overall film to date.
Full disclosure: “Inglourious Basterds” was my introduction to Tarantino and his very specific screenwriting and directorial rhythms. I immediately went back and watched “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs” and the two “Kill Bill” films, which helped put the ahistorical madness I had just witnessed into the context of the Tarantino-verse.
It’s quite possible that what continues to draw me to “Basterds” is the fact I’m Jewish and, at its core, the film is about American and European Jews taking down the Third Reich. Pop culture involving giving Nazis what they deserve is and always will be my jam.
Sure, they do it through extremely violent methods and ultimately the power of cinema (or at least that’s what Tarantino would probably tell you), but what’s a little artistic liberty when the end result is Hitler being gunned down as most of the highest-ranking officers in Nazi Germany burn to death and the film’s main villain gets a swastika carved into his forehead?
Let’s back up a second. The film is split into five acts, a few of which consist of one long, immaculately written scene. For example, the film’s opening 20-or-so minutes spent on a French farm where SS Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) sniffs out the Jewish family hiding under the floorboards might be the best opening scene of a movie this side of “Circle of Life.”
Waltz and Tarantino have to be considered one of the best director-actor pairs of all time. Not many actors have been directed to Oscar wins by the same person, and it happened for Waltz and Tarantino with “Basterds” and later “Django Unchained.” That should be celebrated regardless of how deserving you may think Waltz was of those accolades.
The “Django” Best Supporting Actor win may have been a bit of a reach, but Waltz created one of cinema’s best villains ever in Landa. He was as devilishly smart and evil as they come, and the fact he’s a literal Nazi makes his bad deeds even more pronounced. What a creation!
Of course, the Basterds themselves were also quite memorable, particularly Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo “The Apache” Raine. His accent is ridiculous, but this might be the most fun Pitt has ever been on the big screen. And again, his and his team’s antics comes at the expense of Nazis. That can’t be emphasized enough.
Then there’s the fact Tarantino essentially made a full-blown star out of Michael Fassbender, who wasn’t quite a household name at this point. The bar showdown between him and the Nazi commander is arguably the most well-written scene of Tarantino’s career, and Fassbender is at the center of its on-screen execution.
Admittedly, the material with Melanie Laurent’s Shosanna wasn’t as compelling as it could’ve been. And, if we’re splitting hairs, Eli Roth’s Boston accent as “The Bear Jew” was laughably bad, though that was probably the point.
Otherwise, this is a damn near perfect film. Maybe his latest film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” will usurp this one as Tarantino’s best. But until otherwise indicated, I think “Inglourious Basterds” just might be Tarantino’s masterpiece.
You can watch “Inglourious Basterds” on Netflix!
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Featured image credit: Universal Pictures
Joshua Axelrod has spent five years working in and around journalism for websites and publications like the Military Times, Washington Examiner FanSided. He graduated from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in 2014 and George Washington University’s media and strategic master’s program in 2018. He is about to begin a new phase of his career as a digital sports producer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.