I saw Inglourious Basterds (2009) when it was first released and I remember being completely enthralled by this ridiculous retelling of the end of World War II. While I understand it’s not for everyone, I highly enjoy Quentin Tarantino’s nonlinear, unconventional, overtly violent style. I love, too, that he chooses extremely talented actors for his films, turns on the camera, and let’s them do what they do best: act. Never has this been so apparent to me than it was when I first saw Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa. That man earned his Oscar.
The story follows two independent plots to murder Hitler and bring and close to the war. On the one side we have Shosanna Dreyfus, a Jew living in France and who vows vengeance on her family’s murder. On the other side we have the Basterds, a group of Jewish-American soldiers led by Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine who have a penchant for scalping their Nazi victims and leaving the survivors suitably marked for life. The two plots converge when Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, agrees to hold the debut of his new film in Shosanna’s cinema. Mayhem ensues and, without giving too much away, history as we know it is rewritten.
But back to Christoph Waltz. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so enrapt by a performance as I was by Waltz’s the first time I saw this movie. The way he was so exact in his movements, so deliberate in his expressions, so adept in his pronunciation of words revealed a level of acting beyond what we normally expect from American movies. Never before has someone asking for a glass a milk and eating a piece of strudel seemed so degrading and ominous. His precision with his uniform and pens and paper in earlier scenes serves to sharply contrast those moments when he loses his composure in later ones. Hans Landa would not come across as so diabolical and unhinged without these tiny adjustments and attention to meticulous detail provided by Waltz. He is a dream to watch.
If you are averse to Tarantino, I know there is nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. However, if you can abide by some wild liberties taken with history, some long scenes in German and French, and some gratuitously bloody fight sequences, it will be well worth it to see a man at the height of his craft.