INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
Warning: This review is riddled with Spoilers!
"Once upon a time...in Nazi occupied France". So begins Quentin Tarantino's long awaited mock epic war movie in which slaughter and blood are upstaged by talky tension. This is expertly displayed in the first scene (or chapter as the title card calls it). An SS Colonel (Christoph Waltz) proud of his nickname "the Jew Hunter", questions a French farmer (Denis Menochet) who is suspected of hiding a missing Jewish family. The scene takes its time with their back and forth before the camera pans down to show us that the farmer is indeed harboring the family beneath his floor boards. The set up and powerful payoff of this chilling opening confirm that the pulse and tone of Tarantino's best work is intact and while subtlety was never a strength of his, he is learning to exercise some patience and restraint. However, patience and restraint both stand down for most of the rest of the film.
In the second "chapter" we meet Brad Pitt and his crew of "Basterds" - a team of Jewish American soldiers intent on killing as many Nazis as possible. As Pitt puts it in his unconvincing yet still appropriately comedic Southern accent: "We're not in the taking prisoners business, we're in the killing Nazi killing business, and business is boomin'!" Along the way a few big 3-D style block letter intros to characters like Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) thrown in (with Samuel L. Jackson narration no less) prove that you can't completely take the 70's comic book cinema leanings out of Mr. Too Cool For Film School. The Basterd crew also includes Eli Roth, B.J. Novak, and Sam Levine (Freaks And Geeks) Once we fully get that our heroes are way into collecting scalps and branding Swastika's into survivor's heads it's on to the next chapter.
The only hiding member of the first scene to escape, Mélanie Laurent ends up owning a Paris theater under a different identity. To her dismay when changing the marquee she catches the eye of a soldier (Daniel Brühl) who played himself in a film made by Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth). Despite voicing her disinterest, Brühl proceeds with his plan to premiere his film at her cinema with an Nazi audience topped off by Goebels and other German bigwigs like Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, and the Furher himself, Adolf Hitler (a blustery red faced Martin Wuttke). Laurent with her projectionist boyfriend (Jacky Ido) plots to burn the theater down with all the Nazi's locked inside. Meanwhile the Basterds have a plan of their own for the same event.
Even with his preposterous accent, Pitt's performance is one of his finest. So much better as a Basterd than he was as Benjamin Button, mainly because here he actually has a character to play. His salt of the earth manner peppered with no holds barred brutality is a joy to behold. As the slick but slimy opportunist Colonel, Christoph Waltz has the most dialogue and he makes the most of every word of it, he's definitely worthy of a nomination. The action primarily revolves around these 2 men with Laurent's well timed turn rounding it out. There are few lulls as the story strands come together and the pace pleasingly pulsates quickly towards the end where an intensely satisfying conclusion (which I won't spoil) awaits.
It's too early to tell where INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS falls in Tarantino's canon but it's sturdier and significantly more solid than his last few films (the KILL BILL flicks and DEATH PROOF). If you go looking for historical accuracy or anything resembling reality you'll definitely come up short, but if you go expecting Tarantino's patented brand of film geek gusto infusing an alternate history graphic novel of a movie, you should do just fine.