With Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, anyone looking for historical accuracy, or even a straight-up remake of the similarly named 1978 movie, may be a little thrown by this unusual entry into the war-film genre. No, Inglourious Basterds is an ultra-violent revenge fantasy that asks "what if the Nazi aggression, and the evil of the Holocaust, was met with an eye-for-an-eye? "
Indeed, Inglourious Basterds tackles the Jewish holocaust in a novel way: it never mentions it by name. Instead of depicting the helplessness of victims in the concentration camps, Tarantino spins a dual tale of resistance fighters whose efforts intertwine in the end: Aldo "the Apache" Raines and his band of Jewish-American soldiers, whose sheer ferocity become legend and strike fear into the Nazi army, and the tale of Shosanna Dreyfus, a disguised French-Jewish theater owner, and her black lover. The two separate stories are united in a plot involving the selection of Shosanna's theater, by the Nazis, to premiere a film starring a popular Nazi war hero. Also tying the two strands together is the cat-and-mouse game of the main villain, the methodical Colonel Hans Landa, whose cunning and evil is only amplified by his intelligence and charm, as he toys with his prey in the film's most tense and terrifying nail-biting scenes.
There are plenty of Tarantino trademarks throughout, some more effective than others. The tone of the film itself swings from playful and fantastic to serious, violent, and intense. The soldier's side of the story provides the comic relief, while the story of Shosanna provides the sensitivity to the real concerns and courage of those who historically lived their lives in fear of being caught and systematically slaughtered every day. For the most part, a decent balance is found, and the goofier Tarantino elements are never at the expense of the real-life victims or the tragedies of the war.
This balance of ridiculous and sublime is best expressed in the film's rousing and vengeful climax. Superficially, it shares the explosions of a typical summer blockbuster, but in a way that is not only fully integrated to the plot, but to the overall theme of opting not to depict the horror of the Holocaust. Instead of the victims being sent off to die in gas-oven chambers, it is the Nazis, including Hitler himself, who meet that fate. With Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino challenges the war film genre with the historical fantasy, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "never again."