Today, I figured I would take a brief look at a film, in addition to making a lot of idiots very angry, is one of the best exercises in tension of recent times. It’s a film by one of my favourite directors, and possibly his best work – if not in the top 3. It’s a film that turned me into a fan of two people who I had never heard of before seeing this film. It’s a film that was both my favourite film of 2009, and in my top 15 of all time. The film in question? Inglourious Basterds.
Now, what you have to know is, while this film is called Inglourious Basterds AND does indeed feature a group by the same name – it is not a film about them. They are merely a tool at best, and a distraction at worst, for a much bigger plan – kill Hitler. No, the film is far more about SS Captain Hans Landa – “The Jew Hunter” and Shosanna, the girl he let get away and her plans of revenge. Just go into the film knowing that and you will be fine. And really, how the hell could you not be far more pleased with that than what we actually get? Just because Brad Pitt is the biggest name in the cast (and, I’ll admit a pretty darn good actor when he wants to be) does not mean he gives the best performance – hell, I’d be hard pressed to put him in the top 5 performances. In fact, I’ll give a quick rundown of the top five performances of Inglourious Basterds:
- Christoph Waltz as Cnl. Hans Landa. Hero to all Germans, eradicator of Jews. There is no wonder that Herr Waltz both won the Oscar AND gave himself a career outside of Germany based on this performance. He is so brilliant in the role and is probably Tarantino’s best casting decision ever – and, to me, QT is a man who KNOWS how to cast. It takes a very special man to make a character who is both so morally reprehensible and flat out likeable, but Waltz plays both sides with aplomb.
- Daniel Brühl as Pvt. Fredrick Zoller. Reluctant, but willing, propaganda hero to the Germans. Brühl manages to convey innocence mixed with the fear of knowing that he’s been thrust basically into a lie, yet is fully relishing the position and fame that this lie has afforded him. Every time I see this film, I like his performance just that little bit more.
- Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfuss/Emmanuelle Mimieux. The one that got away. Once again, QT is a man who KNOWS how to cast – Mme. Laurent conveys nothing but disdain, anger, fear and moral disgust at the Germans who have not only killed her family, but taken over her town and forced her to move among their ranks...well, until the sheer glee on her face when her revenge plan moves into motion.
- Denis Menochet as Perrier LaPadite. The farmer. Sure, he may only be featured in one scene, but not only is it one of the more crucial scenes, showing the audience just what a monster Cnl. Landa actually is, but it is the scene that sets up just what sort of tone the whole film will give. And the tenseness, the fear, the sadness that Menochet shows within those first five minute convey more than almost any other opening of Tarantino’s catalogue.
- Michael Fassbender as Lt. Archie Hicox. Superspy extraordinaire. Another character who exists primarily in a single scene, but that scene is probably one of the tensest scenes that I have ever seen (and I have seen a lot, mind you). Granted, this scene is as strong as it is due to all performances, not just his – but Herr Fassbender conveys such an egotistical swagger that you just know he’s going to bring it all down around everyone’s ears.
Now, I said that this was an exercise in tension and it truly is. I don’t care who you are, but you will be on the edge of your seat during several scenes – in particular (and not spoiling too much), the farmhouse scene, the dinner scene and the meeting in the inn. I know I was.
 I’ll freely admit that I can see how some people would be pissed off, since the advertising was built around a team of sadistic Nazi hunters, and instead they play a second banana role to, well, everyone else.