Inglourious Basterds (18)

A while ago, Bryan Ferry put his elegantly shod hoof in his mouth by commenting approvingly that the Nazis “knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves”. Now Quentin Tarantino has managed to find something about the Nazis that he too can relate to: some of them could talk the hind legs off a donkey.

Tarantino’s war adventure Inglourious Basterds has more than a few arresting characteristics, not least that spelling. But if there’s one pressing reason to see the film, it is SS

Colonel Hans Landa, cinema’s most garrulous baddie since Blofeld last treated 007 to his unabridged musings on world domination. Played by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, Landa is a voluble smoothie for whom “Raus! Schnell!” just doesn’t hit the spot. In the opening sequence, shot like a Sergio Leone remake of Jean de Florette, Landa relaxes into an extended monologue as he puts the chills on a terse French farmer. While the farmer gets in only the occasional murmur, Landa holds forth calmly, suavely and with alarming bonhomie for a full 15 minutes, before his purpose becomes horribly apparent.

Waltz’s extraordinary performance is a portrait less of evil’s banality than of its affability. His poised polyglot – in a neat gag, effortlessly slipping from subtitled French into multiplex-friendly English – takes childish pride in his nickname the “Jew Hunter”, and produces a huge Alpine pipe to trump the farmer’s humble briar. I can’t remember when I last saw an actor have so much fun with a part, nor an unknown (Waltz is a seasoned journeyman of German TV) establishing his star credentials so decisively.

He isn’t the only standout. Inglourious Basterds is winningly generous: nominal star Brad Pitt is just one player in a large ensemble cast, mostly of mid-ranking or obscure European names, many of whom get their turn to grandstand. It is also an unexpected film in structural terms. The rumour was that Tarantino would make his ideal Second World War movie, but he hasn’t quite. What he’s done is to imagine his ideal Second World War movie, then come up with a series of extracts from it: sample scenes from a theoretical film that he hasn’t actually made.

Inglourious Basterds comprises five chapters, each containing at least one extended tableau in which characters talk till they’re blue in the face – sometimes mesmerisingly, sometimes less so. For better or worse, it’s clear that when Quentin’s around, his patron Harvey Weinstein won’t allow a blue pencil in the building.

Tarantino’s last effort, Death Proof, was also verbose, but it didn’t begin to resemble a film. Here, however, the dramatic turns combine so that you all but fail to notice that there isn’t really a full-blown action movie here. Ostensibly, the story concerns a squad of Jewish American commandos, under the command of hillbilly lieutenant Aldo Raine (Pitt), their mission to enter occupied France and collect Nazi scalps. The film’s supposed heroes feature in chapters two and five, but that’s about it. Apart from the baseball-bat-wielding Donny Donowitz, feared in Germany as the “Bear Jew” (Hostel director Eli Roth, resembling a feral fourth Beastie Boy), the Basterds barely register as characters.

Tarantino is more interested in Shoshanna (the characterful Mélanie Laurent), a young Jewish woman who escapes Landa’s clutches, then turns up in Paris wearing a gamine cap and arranging the lettering on a cinema marquee. She’s clearly Quentin’s perfect woman: feisty French chick and, heh heh, owns a movie theatre. Among other featured parts, Diane Kruger is German film star Bridget von Hammersmark – Teutonic as the Lohengrin overture, but an agent for the Allies, flirtatiously regal in a feathered hat. Michael Fassbender, channelling the shades of Niven and Colman, is a dashing British officer who in Civvy Street was the author of a study of German director G W Pabst.

Yes, Tarantino is as obsessively cinephilic as ever, only he’s now traded pop-culture disposables for the loftier climes of European film history. There are references to Goebbels’s UFA studios, to the “mountain film” genre, to Leni Riefenstahl and Emil Jannings. Many references will mean little to Tarantino’s pulp-core constituency, which is fine: let them Google “Henri-Georges Clouzot” and get an education.

Apart from the tireless gabble, there are few Tarantino “touches”: at one point, he spells out a character’s name in big yellow letters, and throws in anuncredited Samuel L Jackson voice-over and a snippet of 1970s funk to temper the lashings of borrowed Ennio Morricone. But this seems done half-heartedly, just to remind us who’s directing. Largely, it’s all played moderato: we know that a scene in a cellar bar must eventually explode in violence, but Tarantino keeps us waiting a long time, giving us what could almost be a one-act play, as the characters play a film-buff guessing game.

Come the outrageous wish-fulfilment climax, you start checking your watch, all the more so as the finale is botched. Pitt and two other Basterds infiltrate a Nazi gala premiere posing as Italians, and suddenly we seem to be watching one of those creaky war farces in which the Germans had to endure the laborious buffoonery of comics like Louis de Funès in France, or the Crazy Gang in Britain. And Pitt’s performance is the film’s worst liability: this cartoonish turn might have passed muster in a Coens comedy but misfires here.

The violence is genuinely grisly: it’s not so much the sight of the scalpings as the sound effects that makes you wince. But you can’t say it’s gratuitous: think of the film as a hybrid between ’Allo ’Allo! and Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron, and you know what to expect. For all its prolix shapelessness, Inglourious Basterds displays a perversely coherent vision. Personally, I wearied of Tarantino’s breathless shtick long ago, but I must admit I enjoyed Inglourious Basterds more than anything he’s done in years. Say what you like, he knows how to put himself in the limelight.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas