When I’ve been going through these films, I like to take a look at the IMDb reviews for them, just to get a handle on how the general public reacted to the film, as opposed to the choice quotes from critics that invariably pop up on any given film’s Wikipedia page (and you can’t get much more ‘general public’ than the anonymous masses on Internet Movie Database); most of the time, if I read long enough, I’ll find someone who shares my opinion exactly, which is comforting, and most of the time I’ll also run across someone who saw the film in the exact opposite light, which is just one of the truths of the Internet. Inglourious Basterds is the most polarising film I’ve looked through the reviews for in quite a while, and far be it from me to make judgements on the opinions of faceless Internet people who I’ve never met, but… I think the people who hate this film – vehemently hate it, decry its value with the fire of a thousand suns and all the fury they can muster from their keyboard – are just wrong.
In German-occupied France, a secret mission is set in motion that will place the Inglourious Basterds – a group of Jewish-American soldiers led by the scalp-taking Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) – in a position to assassinate Adolf Hitler and the other high-ranking pillars of the Third Reich; at the same time, Shoshana (Mélanie Laurent), the owner of the theatre where this plan will unfold, plots her revenge against the Nazis – in specific, Hans “the Jew Hunter” Landa (Christoph Waltz), who executed the rest of her family. Right up front, let’s get one thing clear – this isn’t a film about World War II at all: if it wasn’t clear that this takes place in some slightly alternate version of real life by the time the climax literally explodes onto the screen, then perhaps you were watching a different film than I. If anything, it’s an homage to films about WWII that just takes more care with its use of language instead of just having everyone speak in ‘Allo ‘Allo!-esque accents. But as is always the case with Tarantino, that’s not the only homage happening; Basterds also derives much of its origins from spaghetti westerns, and though the outward appearance is radically different the core elements of larger-than-life personalities in showdown after showdown are faithfully maintained. So much of the film is outwardly just characters talking, yet the constant tension of discovery, whether we the audience will be able to spot if the characters have given the game away, keeps each scene riveting. All that slick style generated from previous films has been channeled into something with not necessarily more substance, but with a more finely-tuned agenda, and it feels all the more polished and refined because of it.