By Doug Thompson
“Inglourious Basterds” is the gleeful celebration of juvenile violence we hoped it would be.
“We” being boys. “Boys” are immature males. Age doesn’t matter.
Underneath that boy story, however, is a moving story of a girl.
She sees her family betrayed, then massacred. She runs away. She lives. She’s spared, we suspect, only because the villain wants somebody to remember his display of clever cruelty.
She listened to the whole interrogation. She didn’t understand much of it, which was in a foreign language. She heard enough to know that her family’s protector sold them out, though.
It was a bravura performance by the villain. If he kills her, who will remember it but him? The former protector? He’ll remember it only with shame. The escaped girl will never forget it. He lets her live, but she bears his scar. That’s a theme with this movie.
When Col. Hans Landra decides not to shoot his fleeing victim, it might be the most believable moment in a thoroughly unbelievable story.
And I guess that unbelievably is why I’m amused by “IB” more than I’m offended. I’m normally repulsed by movies that don’t even attempt to be historically accurate. “IB” doesn’t even want to be believed. It plays it all for laughs. Unlike a movie like “Pearl Harbor,” which has high flying aircraft swarming around low for melodramatic spectacle, “IB” tells whoppers for laughs and for irony.
Throughout the movie, I felt like I did while laughing my rear off at a heroin overdose scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” Lord, this is funny. Lord, what’s wrong with me? Why is this funny?
Part of the fun is Brad Pitt. I don’t know who his voice coach was for this movie, but that person deserves a raise. Pitt nailed the hillbilly drawl that makes his character hilarious. Having rudimentary Italian come out of that mouth is beyond funny. I agree with Roger Ebert, who said: “Pitt’s version of Italian is worthy of a Marx brother.”
Then there’s Pitt’s thorough concern for the lives of his men, nicely balanced against his utter contempt for the enemy. “You know, fightin’ in a basement offers a lot of difficulties. Number one being, you’re fightin’ in a basement.”
“… Look, she’s not a military strategist. She’s just an actress,” the know-it-all, polished Englishman replies. Know-it-all, polished Englishmen are a staple of World War II movies.
“You don’t got to be Stonewall Jackson to know you don’t want to fight in a basement.” The logic is unassailable.
Pitt’s character’s first question after the inevitable happens in the basement is: “Who on our side is still alive?”
Everything you’ve heard about how Christoph Waltz, who plays Landa, steals this movie is true. The amazing thing is how hard it must have been to take it and keep it. The performances here are superb. Even the French dairy farmer in the opening is played well. He has to be, just not to look ridiculous.
Melanie Laurent does a wonderful turn as a cold femme fatal who just wanted to be left alone. Diane Kruger does well also as a very smart woman who plays a ditz because people expect it. Very smart, yes, but she’s still in over her head. The stereotypical Nazi brute in this movie is not Landa, but Major Dieter Hellstrom. August Diehl plays that most stereotyped of cliched characters with real skill and more depth and intelligence than I used to think the role allowed.
Another thing that must be mentioned is the high level of quality of the film. Whatever you think of the content, it was beautifully lighted, filmed, staged, set and costumed. The movie is ridiculous but never campy, absurd but never a fit to be mocked. It is foolishness, presented immaculately. “Hamlet” should be filmed as well.
There are also some nice touches. Some of the older of us might remember Bo Svenson, who played “Big Swede” in “Here Come the Brides” and Sheriff Buford Pusser in the TV series “Walking Tall.” He’s in this movie, or rather the movie within this movie, “Nation’s Pride.” He was also in the original “Inglourious Bastards” of 1978.