Steve G 🇵🇸’s review published on Letterboxd:
Many, many films have played hard and fast with history over the decades, especially those that have dealt with World War 2. Many of those have even chosen to stir fictional incidents and characters in with fact.
I can only presume, then, that the problem that some people seemed to have with Quentin Tarantino's decision to make a war film that chose to play completely by its own rules and narrative is the fact that it was made by Tarantino. I suspect if Inglourious Basterds had been made by almost anyone else that no-one would have much cared about the liberties that he takes with history and even the outcome of the war.
It is ridiculous that anyone should care, however. Right from the outset Tarantino establishes his film as a work of fiction that has nothing more than a very thin factual base. It's a war adventure that doesn't presume to suppose anything. It is completely its own beast, admittedly shot through with references-a-go-go as you would expect from Tarantino, and it has the unbelievably ballsy ending to go with it.
As playful as it is, alongside Jackie Brown it is easily his most mature work. The opening scenes between Christophe Waltz's 'Jew Hunter' and Denis Menochet's farmer set this out as a 'proper' war film. And most of the rest of the scenes in the film, especially those dealing with Waltz and Melanie Laurent, are similarly dramatic. Then in pops Brad Pitt and his Basterds and it becomes a Dirty Dozen pastiche.
To say this film's turn sat well with me would not be true at all but any problems I had with it lasted for about 5 minutes at the most. Pitt is so much fun and his merry band of scalpers equally so that, just like with Pulp Fiction, the film scoops you up from the more dramatic content, dumps you into the dafter stuff, lets you familiarise yourself with its surroundings and then lets it wash over you until you realise you are no longer having a problem with it.
There really are not that many filmmakers who would have the nerve to try such a trick simply because not many of them would have the confidence to believe even slightly that they would succeed. In fairness, Tarantino almost bites off more than he can chew and I think he nearly loses it during the film's cinema-based finale - the remaining Basterds and the nonsense surrounding their Italian as well as the attempt at striking a deal and the slightly slapstick nature of it all didn't really work all that well for me until the final couple of minutes.
But I've come to expect gaping flaws in his films by now. For instance, Eli Roth. Forgive me, but when the Bear Jew comes rumbling out of the cave for the first time, I'm expecting someone that is actually quite scary. Not Eli Roth. I'm expecting someone the size of Tiny Lister. It doesn't help that Roth is not very good either. Normally I would say that he should go back to his day job but because he's Eli Roth and that would involve directing more films, that's the last thing I'm going to suggest.
However, when the film is good, it is fantastic. Its long dialogue-heavy scenes carry far, far more weight as they actually seem to mean something rather than being time-passing pop culture referencing nothingness. As well as the opening chapter, the scene between Laurent and Waltz over a slice of strudel is absolutely electric. Deservedly, perhaps, Waltz has received most of the acting based acclaim for this film and there is no denying that his star-making turn in Inglourious Basterds is one that deserves to be showered with awards and platitudes. It's one of the very best screen performances that I have seen for a very long time from any era.
But Laurent is stunning as well, especially so during this scene where she visibly struggles to contain her emotions when faced with the murderer of her family, only able to deliver monosyllabic responses to his questions as that is all she seems able to deliver without losing her nerve completely. Her facial expression when Waltz orders her a glass of milk is wonderful. Indeed, that was the best written part of the whole film, leaving you wondering if Waltz actually knows her true identity.
Inglourious Basterds hides its true greatness in its dialogue and even, occasionally, in its subtitles. I've never seen a film that actively uses its subtitles to actually play a part in the narrative. It's not done too often, but subtle touches allow you to pick up on mistakes that certain characters could be making and if they have been picked up by others. It is attention to detail that I thoroughly enjoyed watching.
Aside from Roth, who Tarantino wisely gives little dialogue to, thankfully, the entire case is superlative. As I've stated before when reviewing his films, outwardly his casts may look as though they are put together for show and several cameos (Bo Svenson and Rod Taylor to name but two) do look as though they are nothing more than Tarantino waving his pop culture and cult film knowledge around once again.
But once again this is a cast that absolutely works. Pitt never allows his character to slip into being an archetypal Deep South hick, which was a relief, and he's rarely been more downright entertaining than he is here. Michael Fassbender might slightly overreach himself with his English accent (the same could be said for the otherwise delightful Mike Myers cameo) but adds yet another excellent turn to his increasingly heavyweight portfolio.
I am quite confident in saying that this is now my favourite Tarantino film - whether it will hold up less well on rewatches as Pulp Fiction (my previous favourite) proved to remains to be seen, as I would imagine I would be revisiting this fairly soon. Even its problems are entertaining - it just goes to show how enjoyable the rest of Inglourious Basterds is.