Inglourious Basterds

‘Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France.’ So begins the long awaited film by Quentin Tarantino about a small, ruthless and dedicated unit of Jewish American soldiers hand picked by their leader, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), during World War Two, for a very dangerous mission. They are to parachute into France just before the D-Day invasion and wreak havoc behind the German lines and show the enemy absolutely no mercy in “Inglourious Basterds.”

Laura's Review: A-

Southern boy Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) hand picks a pack of Nazi scalpers of the Jewish persuasion and advises them that they will attack like his ancestral Apaches, using cruelty to make the Germans know and fear them and they do. With Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger, "King Arthur," "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo"), notorious for having killed thirteen as an enlisted German, and Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth, "Hostel," "Death Proof"), known as 'The Bear Jew' and for his way with a baseball bat, in their ranks, Hitler himself is soon calling for the demise of "The Inglourious Basterds." Writer/director Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction," "Grindhouse") is like a kid in a candy store reinventing WWII as a Spaghetti Western peopled with British film critics, vengeful Jewish cinema owners and beautiful German film stars turned British spy. His pièces de résistance are Cannes Best Actor winner Christoph Waltz ("Schussangst") as the glib and duplicitous Nazi Col. Hans Landa, aka 'The Jew Hunter,' and a wallop of a climax that reimagines a cinema auditorium as a Holocaust gas chamber by way of the throne of the great and powerful wizard of Oz. And he gets his foot fetishism in, too. The film has a good old fashioned international cast (the credits even include that old chestnut, 'Guest starring') and is told in five chapters, the first of which has been getting most of the attention. It is here that we first meet Landa as he visits French farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet, "Hannibal Rising") to see if he may be hiding the one unaccounted for Jewish family in the area. But what makes Landa so maliciously evil is his charming, bureaucratic banter. He fusses with pens and lists and talks about the redundancy of governmental service. He admires the farmers' daughters and his dairy produce. He asks if he may switch to English, apologizing for his perfectly mellifluous French, and at first we chuckle, thinking that this is Tarantino's clever way of switching off the subtitles. But then Landa's eyes go dead and we realize there is a far more sinister reason. It is in the second chapter that we first meet Pitt's Raine, all jaw full of chaw like he's playing George Clooney playing Clark Gable in 'O Brother.' It's an entertaining performance, but this chapter is an uncomfortable mix of comedy and sadism. At least Raine gives us a reason, and one that seems to be working, for his squad's barbarism. In chapter 3 we remeet chapter 1's Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent, "Don't Worry, I'm Fine"), now the owner of a Parisian cinema and the ironic recipient of the attentions of German war hero Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl, "Good Bye Lenin!," "The Bourne Ultimatum"), a movie buff. (Tarantino the movie buff hides a neat reference to his character's secrets within the movie title she is affixing to her marquee, Henri-Georges Clouzot's "Le Corbeau.") Zoller won't give up on Shosanna and to her great surprise, she finds herself discussing her cinema as a premiere location for a film about him with none other than Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth, "The Reader"). In a devastatingly tense flip of chapter 1, Shosanna also must discuss security concerns with none other than Landa, who even orders her a glass of milk with her strudel ('Attendez la crema!'). Just as Shosanna begins to contemplate new uses for (incredibly flammable) nitrate film, chapter 4 outlines Operation Kino, a British plan much like Shosanna's own. The Errol Flynn-like Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender, "300," "Hunger") joins forces with some of Raines's own to meet German film star Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger, "Troy," "National Treasure: Book of Secrets") who is spying for the English, but her choice of meeting spot - a subterranean French tavern - turns out to be full of German soldiers celebrating the birth of Master Sgt. Wilhelm's (Alexander Fehling) son. Von Hammersmark is cool, playing a game of celebrity heads (where one is German author Karl May's Apache Chief Winnetou), but when Major Dieter Hellstrom (August Diehl, "The Counterfeiters") makes his presence known, Hicox has trouble hiding his Englishness. All the players finally come together in chapter 5, in which Landa is suspicious of just about everyone. If there is one great disappointment in "Inglourious Basterds," it is that Landa learns the identity of everyone except the one person who would most like him to find out. Tarantino's always been a great writer and the dialogue in this film snaps. After Landa plays Prince Charming with Hammersmark he notes 'If the shoe fits...' only to turn around with 'It feels like the shoe is on the other foot' a couple of scenes later. Kudos, too, for keeping the players speaking the languages they naturally would (Waltz landed his part with fluency in German, English and French, although his Italian's not bad either!). The Apache references are playfully integrated, but the film is positively dripping in self reference, from its cinema as ultimate Nazi killer to the different genres Tarantino utilizes. Music, as ever, is a feast from the Ennio Morricone pieces to David Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)." Tarantino is also known for reviving careers and his casting of Mike Meyers as an English general is surprise which Meyers pulls off with just the right amount of subtle humor. Everybody's good here. Even director buddy Eli Roth has a scary gleam in his eye (and a killer bit on Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox). Diane Kruger has come into her own, proving she can really step up to the plate with the big boys. We know she's effective because we just hate to see her go. Laurent is also fine - watch her near nervous breakdown after holding it together sharing pastry with Landa - and Tarantino has immortalized her as a hologram in smoke, the 'big head' noted in the last chapter heading. Daniel Brühl pulls off an interesting dichotomy, the German war hero who may just not be such a bad guy while Diehl shades his commanding and deadly serious presence with self doubt. "Inglourious" looks glorious. Cinematographer Robert Richardson ("Kill Bill") treats us to crisp images of bucolic countryside and autumnal forests. Interiors, which were created at Berlin's legendary Babelsberg Studios, have a naturally old period feel. Costumes are stunning and even witty (Kruger wears an elevated cast to match her heeled shoe to the premiere). "Inglourious Basterds" may be pulp fiction, but it's a thrilling ride, a movie you can really sink into. It just may be Tarantino's most enjoyable movie since "Reservoir Dogs."

Robin's Review: B