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The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Basterds storm Hollywood, taking no prisoners

By Tatiana Craine

Welcome to World History 666, Quentin Tarantino will be your professor for the semester. Before you step in the door with your school books and your uniform, forget the notion that World War II is an outrageously patriotic affair between the Allies and the Axis. Instead, let’s think of it as a spaghetti western with a little foreign film noir sprinkled in for good measure. Your first assignment: take care to watch “Inglourious Basterds.”Perhaps it would be best to start at the beginning. “Once upon a time. in Nazi Occupied France,” and thus starts the first chapter (yes, get ready for five chapters) of Tarantino’s latest film. In the French countryside, a German commander (Christoph Waltz) catches a small farming family unaware as he interrogates them into revealing they have hidden a family of Jews beneath their floorboards. The commander then kills all the members of the Jewish family, save one: Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), the teenage daughter.

Jump to the U-nigh-ted Staytes where thickly-accented Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) lectures his new troop of Jewish-American Nazi killing machines: the Inglourious Basterds. Raine seems to be about as gung-ho as any lieutenant out of Tennessee, but he has a thirst for crooked blood and a dirty means to sating that lust. He informs his soldiers that under his command they have a debt to pay: 100 Nazi scalps. The Basterds do not disappoint.

Flash forward four years. Shoshanna has adopted a different name and a head of newly blonde locks as the owner of a small cinema. One day a young Nazi war hero (Daniel Bruhl) befriends her, and she reluctantly tolerates his flirtations if only to divest any suspicions about her true identity. The soldier eventually wins Shoshanna the honor of hosting the new Goebbels film premiere at her cinema.

More Nazi assassination plots crop up all over the place, involving Shoshanna, the Basterds, a German film star (Diane Krueger) and others. Needless to say, their objective is mutual: kill Hitler and his minions.

Though “Basterds” relies on a stellar ensemble cast, there are three characters that stand out a scalp above the rest: the vengeful woman, the renegade soldier and the Jew Hunter.

Laurent shines as the vengeful young woman, serving as the strongest female presence in the film. She’s young, beautiful and by the end of the film she glows in the red hues of classic film stars. However, she’s got a mean grudge, and she’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family’s death. Laurent delivers a quiet performance with a merciless and scheming facade covering the torture lying beneath her porcelain skin.

The renegade Raine played by a grungy Pitt attracts attention with his outlandish demands and tactics. Pitt’s dense Tennessee accent and his comedic timing lend to Raine’s character working well on screen. He brings a satirical twist to a character so often played by rugged men in old westerns. In fact, Pitt’s character’s name is an homage to Aldo Ray, a classic American actor who specialized in war films. Raine’s ardent zeal for all things involved with torturing and killing Nazis (including bludgeoning them with bats, carving into them with knives and stripping them of their scalps) is fascinating and gruesome all at once.

Last comes the Jew Hunter. The moment Waltz steps into the scene as Colonel Landa, he commands the screen, calm, charismatic and calculating to the core. Waltz won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his multilingual (he speaks German, English, French and Italian flawlessly) character. Landa plays ruthless mind games, leaving audiences hanging in suspense on the edges of their seats as he quietly gets a farmer to acquiesce with his wishes or as he lets Shoshanna run free. Landa has a reason for everything with the seemingly god-like omniscience of a chess master using everyone around him as a worthless pawn. Gossip in the Hollywood press circles points to Waltz, a little-known Austrian actor, gaining an Oscar nomination. It would be well deserved.

Tarantino, master of quirky, violent films has perhaps created his best film to date. If “Basterds” does not surpass “Pulp Fiction” in ingenuity and originality, it certainly surpasses it with its well woven story and the cinematic glory represented on the screen. Tarantino shamelessly snuck little hints about the glory and honor of film directors (most likely an indirect reference to himself) throughout the movie, but it’s fun to think about how proud Tarantino is of this film after putting it off for years and years before finally going through with it. Even Raine makes a comment that obviously points at the triumph of Tarantino’s filming prowess in the line “I think this might just be my masterpiece.” Tarantino’s dream of basing World War II in the realm of spaghetti westerns, even down to the music, has come true. And by Jove, it’s a beautifully twisted dream.

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