Last week, we took a look at Sicario’s border scene to demonstrate how effective it is for a filmmaker to use tension to build up his action scenes. We are sticking at that theme this week. Few are better at this than Quentin Tarantino and it is never more evident that it is in Inglourious Basterds. We could easily talk about the opening scene, but I prefer the pub scene just a little more. It’s a long scene and I couldn’t find it all together on YouTube, so we’re gonna split it up a bit.
We first find out protagonists, Jewish soldiers disguised as Nazis and a German actress, interrupted by a drunk Nazi solider in the bar. When he is scolded by Michael Fassbender’s character, the soldier questions Fassbender’s accent and our tension starts to build. Right when we think the protagonists solved their problem, a German Major comes out from around the corner also questioning the accent. Fassbender saves the day with a clever story and everyone laughs it off, seemingly breaking the tension.
The Nazi Major then joins them at the table. making conversation before suggesting joining a game being played at a nearby table. The tension slowly starts to build back up throughout this scene, as we are well aware that our protagonists’ cover could be blown at any moment. This is especially true as the game draws to a close and Fassbender as the Major to please leave the table, which the Major seems to take offense to.
But then the Major laughs it off as a joke and we feel the tension start to fade as we believe Fassbender’s cover will remain intact. However, the Major offers to buy drinks before he leaves, and Fassbender signals 3 drinks. Tarantino very subtlety hints that his hand signal is incorrect and our tension builds again as all the characters start to realize this mistake. Before long, guns are drawn and they being to converse about their standoff. When there appears to be no other way out, Fassbender begins to speak English, lights a cigarette, downs his whiskey and we finally get the shootout that has been teased for nearly 10 minutes. It’s bloody, loud, and quick. 10 minutes of buildup for less than 20 seconds of action.
Just when we think it’s over with only our drunk Nazi from before as a survivor, Brad Pitt arrives after hearing the gunshots. Tensions builds again as the two negotiate a deal. And then, just as we think they worked on out and it’s over, several more shots are fired by an unexpected shooter and the scene finally ends.
It’s brilliant film making in a fantastic scene. There are many peaks and valleys regarding the tension and it’s impossible to keep your eyes off the screen. The fact that most of it is in German never seems to come into play in terms of knowing exactly what is happening, even if you didn’t have subtitles on. That’s how good the acting and writing is. It could easily be used as a template for all screenwriters in how to write a scene like this.
What are your thoughts on the scene? Do you prefer the opening scene to the movie? Let us know in the comments.