After all the rampant previews clogging up my TV, Quentin Tarantino's newest epic Inglourious Basterds arrived with a $37.6 million box office debut. This movie is way better than I expected. Even with all its messed up parts and incongruous plot-holes there is some redeeming beauty. Basterds is a cinephile's dream with obvious references to all movies great and small. Although clearly influenced by The Dirty Dozen, any Spaghetti Western and Pekinpah's Cross of Iron, Tarantino seems heavily anchored in his director chair rather than lifting from other movies (including his own). Still he adds super hero writing and chapters as a signature style but the cohesiveness enables three remarkable stories to intertwine.
The converging stories take place in World War II - Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) secretly Jewish, owns a French theatre that is chosen by Third Reich propaganda minister Goebbels for a showing of a Nazi war hero film "Nation's Pride." The Basterds, a commando squad of soldiers headed by Lt. Aldo Raine (a hysterically funny Brad Pitt) catch and kill Nazi soldiers without mercy, taking scalps, and a British intelligence officer (Michael Fassbender) brings them together with an assassination plot after getting word Hitler is to attend the gala premiere. Meanwhile, the Gestapo "Jew hunter" Col. Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz), looms at every turn.
Tarantino says he worked for over a decade on this script, loosely based on Enzo Castellari's 1978 film (same name/different spelling). The misspellings in the title are anyone's guess.
Pitt excels as Lt Raine (the name taken from WWII vet actor Aldo Ray) jutting his jaw out, and rattling off witticisms in a redneck twang; his specialty is carving swastikas in German soldier's foreheads. But multi-lingual Waltz steals the movie. His performance as a complexly fascinating yet despicable character is genius and brings to mind a young Maximilian Schell. Both women are absolutely phenomenal. Diane Kruger (Bridget von Hammersmark) has a multi-faceted role, speaking several languages and spouting off wisecracks (in French) straight out of Pulp Fiction. French actress Laurent, reminiscent of a young Catherine Deneuve, has the pivotal role here as a woman torn apart by war and revenge. Fassbender delivers a clearly impeccable performance. Exceptions to the excellent acting are Tarantino's director pal Eli Roth (Hostel) who's all bug-eyed and one dimensional and the "why bother" use of Mike Myers, with yet another poor attempt at being Peter Sellers.
Basterds is as multi-faceted as any Tarantino flick. It's all here in rich pastel colors, the violence, beauty, mesmerizing photography, snappy dialogue, and choice of excellent music (ranging from Dimitri Tiomkin's The Green Leaves of Summer to Mike Curb motorcycle music, David Bowie, and Ennio Morricone). Basterds stands as metaphorical/fantastical story that skims the surface of brilliance, dismantling history with grace, style and violence. The spellbinding opening scene sets most of the tone, but the end caves in on itself, culminating in a crescendo of violence and an over-acted twist wherein someone breaks character and rattles off an unbelievable scenario that has all the trappings of an over the top Tarantino-esque monologue just for the sake of cartoonish bravura.
Though Tarantino's personality nowadays overshadows his films, he is clearly capable of making a huge stew, stirring racism and barbarism from all sides into the pot with a large dose of humor. That's impressive. Inglourious Basterds is not a masterpiece, but it's darn close.
Inglourious Basterds ★★★✩✩
Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Brad Pitt, Christopher Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Brühl, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent. Rated R