Quintin Tarantino’s latest film is a gory, delicious and highly stylized revenge fantasy that is in many ways reminiscent of the action-packed, episodic Saturday afternoon matinee films of long ago.
Inglourious Basterds begins in German-occupied France, where Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz).
Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris, where she forges a new identity as the owner and operator of a cinema.
Elsewhere in Europe, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) organizes a group of Jewish soldiers to engage in targeted acts of retribution. Known to Nazis as “The Basterds,” Raine’s squad joins German actress and undercover agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) on a mission to take down the leaders of The Third Reich.
Everything comes to a boil under a cinema marquee, where Shosanna is poised to carry out a revenge plan of her own.
Tarantino takes his time to unfold several layers of the story and at times certain scenes play out like an Agatha Christie play, with scenes that build and build as pieces of the puzzle are revealed in a explosion of gun fire.
A number of actors shine brightly. Most notably Christof Waltz as the Nazi Colonel known to his men as “The Jew Hunter.” Waltz in an Academy baiting performance is at the center of the story with his multi-lingual bad guy character who always gets him man (or woman).
Diane Kruger, oozing old-school glamor as German movie star Bridget von Hammersmark, and Daniel Bruhl as Nazi war hero Fredrick Zoller who’s about to become a star by playing himself in a propaganda film about his exploits both give excellent performances.
Perhaps the most human and sympathetic performance is by French actress, Mélanie Laurent whose beauty and vulnerability makes us squirm as she falls into “The Jew Hunter’s” trap.
Brad Pitt is fun to watch as the fearless good-ole-boy Lieutenant Aldo Raine who lets nothing stand in the way of his mission or his personal convictions. Great cameos from Mike Myers as a stuffy old British General and Australian actor, Rod Taylor as Winston Churchill.
Cinematography by Robert Richardson is rich and beautiful. Production design by David Wasco is detailed and impressive. Sally Menke’s editing is sharp.
Inglourious Basterds is violent, colorful and thought provoking. Tarantino’s best film since Pulp Fiction, it is certainly the most fun to be had in the cinema this summer so far.
We give it: ****