“Actually, Werner, we’re all tickled to hear you say that. Quite frankly, watchin’ Donny beat Nazis to death is the closest we ever get to goin’ to the movies. Donny!”
There are a lot of revenge films out there, but I can’t think of any that try to take revenge retroactively for a historical act of genocide—except for, of course, Inglourious Basterds. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs) and starring Brad Pitt and Cristoph Waltz, this film is basically a revenge fantasy enacted by the Jews against Nazi Germany in World War II, and it even goes as far as to change some pretty major historical events for the sake of the story. Given that and the fact that it’s a Tarantino film (typically bloody and brutal) I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it—but I did. Quite a bit. The revenge is sweet, and the film is a perfect concoction of suspense, action, humor, and wit. While intelligently written, this isn’t really a thinking film—but it’s extremely entertaining, and there are some very memorable characters and scenes. I was initially hesitant to consider this film for my list, but after watching it, I can honestly say that I loved it and it absolutely deserves to be here.
The film takes place in France, occupied by Germans in World War II, and there are several subplots going on. Aldo Raine, a lieutenant with the U.S. military, puts together a little guerrilla squad of Jewish-American soldiers to terrorize German forces, known to the Germans simply as the Basterds. Meanwhile, Shosanna, a Jewish-French survivor of an attack on her family in hiding, manages a cinema in Paris. She’s approached by Fredrick Zoller, a German war hero turned propaganda film star, who is enamored with Shosanna and wants to use her cinema for the premier of his new film. When Shosanna discovers that the highest-ranking German military officers will be in attendance, she agrees to host the premier and begins her plot to kill them. This puts her on a collision course with the Basterds, who also wish to kill these high-ranking officers.
In the pages of history, every once in a while, fate reaches out and extends its hand. What shall the history books read?
A bloody revenge film about one of the most infamous atrocities of history could easily devolve into a senseless debacle of glorified violence and overly-righteous anger—and, I won’t lie, some of those elements are definitely there. What elevates this film is an amazing script. The dialogue, the scenes, and the characters are all extremely well-written—particularly the main antagonist, the “Jew Hunter” Colonel Hans Landa, played brilliantly by Cristoph Waltz, and probably one of the best movie villains I’ve ever seen. All of the characters, while lacking in noble traits, are consistent, well-developed, and fun to watch.
But don’t let the clever writing or edgy subject matter distract from the fact that this is a really fun movie. When you hear that a man is beaten to death with a baseball bat, that sounds pretty horrific, but Tarantino has a way of somehow making even the gratuitous violence in his films much more palatable. I won’t go as far as to say that you’ll cheer for these characters as they murder Nazis, but it’s very interesting to watch. And that classic Tarantino mix of dark humor and tense situations is at its best here—it seems very natural in the midst of World War II, even more so than in the criminal world he often portrays.
Inglourious Basterds is a historical revenge film that’s smart, fun, and edgy enough to be entertaining without being obscene. The violence and language might put some people off, but it wasn’t too hard to take in. The opening and closing sequences are also brilliant—definitely some of the most entertaining I can remember. I enjoyed this film a lot more than I thought I would and would love to watch again. If you like a good mix of dark humor and stylized violence, or if you want to see some Jewish people giving old Nazi Germany what they deserve, this might be exactly what you’re looking for!
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Genres: adventure, historical, war