“A Glourious Revenge Fantasy”
Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Chapter One: Once Upon a Time (in Quentin Tarantino’s Brilliantly Twisted Mind)…
Say what you want about Quentin Tarantino. His movies may not be for everybody, but they’re certainly not boring either. They’re also not like anyone else’s movies, thanks to his unbridled talent for writing snappy dialogue and his devoted passion for directing with a pulp-oriented style that’s visually stunning, dramatically intense and always ambitious.
And that is a very, very good thing indeed.
So is Tarantino’s latest effort, which, next to 1994’s landmark “Pulp Fiction,” just might be his best movie yet. Coming two years after road warrior Kurt Russell got his comeuppance in “Death Proof” (as part of 2007’s “Grindhouse”), and five years after Uma Thurman stuck it to the late great David Carradine in “Kill Bill Vol. 2.,” “Inglourious Basterds” is Tarantino’s brilliant 5-part revenge fantasy about a group of pumped-up Jewish-American soldiers who strike back against the Nazis during World War II.
And after seeing Jews suffer repeatedly in one Holocaust movie after another, it sure is refreshing and rousing to see them give it back, and in a very big way.
Chapter Two: Just Who Are These Basterds Anyway?
For Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), it’s not about quantity — it’s about quality. That’s why, with just a handful of skilled, fearless, resourceful soldiers under his command, he’s been able to spread fear throughout the Third Reich on their very own turf: Nazi-occupied France, circa 1944.
But the prospect of ambushing Nazi troops, cutting off their scalps and carving Swastikas on their foreheads gets a little old after a while. That’s why Raine and his Basterds are more than ready, willing and able to take on a very dangerous mission that has every reason to fail, but every hope to succeed.
When they find out that Holocaust mastermind Joseph Goebbels, other top Nazi officials and even Hitler himself have plans to attend a film premiere honoring a Nazi war hero, the prospect of blowing up the theater with everyone inside — which would effectively end the War — is just too good to pass up.
What they don’t realize is that the theater’s young owner, Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), has plans of her own to do the same thing, but with motives that are much more personal. Three years after the massacre of her Jewish family, she becomes obsessed with revenge against the Nazis — and specifically against Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), the sick, twisted, conniving “Jew Hunter” who ordered the death of her family in the first place.
Chapter Three: QT Thinks Outside the Box…Or Does He?
As a self-professed, card-carrying film nerd, Tarantino has a penchant for lacing his movies with numerous references to cinematic pop culture. That’s hardly a bad thing, since they wind up giving his movies their own distinctive voice.
But at this point in his career, Tarantino runs the risk of becoming a cliché by writing dialogue that’s too hip for its own good. Fortunately, he shows restraint with “Inglourious Basterds,” which scales back on these references, presumably because of the alternate reality in which the story takes place.
So to make up for it, Tarantino has a good portion of the action take place in — surprise, surprise — a movie theater. As if that wasn’t enough (and it clearly could have been), it is revealed that a British commando who goes undercover to assist Raine’s team used to be a film critic in his civilian life.
As for the film itself, of course it’s a WWII movie. But it’s a WWII movie by way of a spaghetti western, in which revenge — a key motive in Tarantino’s films — once again rears its ugly head. Add in a seamless blend of both pulp and propaganda, and the result is another gripping classic from Tarantino that features an explosive ending that’s anything but predictable.
Chapter Four: Eat Your Heart Out, Hannibal Lecter!
The performances all around are mesmerizing, with many of the actors constantly shifting back and forth between languages and accents. Brad Pitt is not one of them, since his thick Tennessee accent is what gives his unflappable character his charm, but he is still terrific, engaging and funny.
Irish actor Michael Fassbender is also incredible as the aforementioned British commando who poses as a Nazi officer. The scene in which he, a hot-tempered colleague (Til Schweiger) and an actress-turned-double-agent (Diane Kruger) have a standoff against Nazis in the basement of a bar is beyond intense, and the charming Fassbender could easily pass for a young Christopher Plummer.
Melanie Laurent is compelling as the vengeful theater owner who tries to resist the advances of the Nazi war hero (charmingly played by Daniel Bruhl), but the scene-stealer of “Inglourious Basterds” — as well as the standout performance of the year — belongs to Austrian actor Christoph Waltz. Words cannot do justice to his Oscar-worthy turn as the sociopathic Nazi Colonel Hans Landa — by far the best movie villain since Hannibal Lecter from “The Silence of the Lambs.”
That’s obvious from the very first scene, in which Landa interrogates a French farmer who is suspected of hiding a Jewish family. At first, he is courteous, gracious and disarming — all of which make him hard to resist. But as the intensity slowly builds with each passing snippet of dialogue — during which Waltz seamlessly changes from German to French to English — his ominous motive becomes clear, as does the reason for his vicious nickname.
Chapter Five: “I Think This Just Might Be My Masterpiece”
When a major character say these words during a key moment in “Inglourious Basterds,” it’s hard not to wonder if Tarantino is patting himself on the back for his best and most commercially accessible film yet.
At least he deserves the accolade, because “Basterds” is bravura filmmaking at its finest. It’s not as violent one might expect (though it does have its share of bloodshed), and it never sags for one moment of its perfectly paced 2 hour and 32 minute running time.
Who knows what Tarantino has up his sleeve next, and who knows how long it will take before we see it. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be visually stunning, dramatically intense and always ambitious.
And that is a very, very good thing indeed.
Verdict: SEE IT!