95/100 (153 min, 2009)
Plot: In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as "The Basterds" are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger and Eli Roth
"We got a German here who wants to die for his country! Oblige him!"
Some say that the cinema is the true escapism. But for me the escapism only occurs when I'm watching a truly great movie, one that is able to pull the audience in its world so completely, you are not only forgetting you are watching a film, but also you don't question how far from actual reality the events portrayed in it are. "Inglourious Basterds" is one of those movies. It captures the true cinematic magic, that for few minutes alters the history, the real events and presents something incredibly satisfying. It is a movie where the evil is punished and when the actual events are changed in an extremely satisfying way.
Despite the movie's title, The Basterds, the group of soldiers who capture Nazis and scalp them is only a small part of the film. The Basters are lead by Aldo Raine, charismatic and capable leader and they are quite a diverse bunch - there is a psychopathic Nazi killer Hugo Stiglitz, Donny Donowitz who bashes Nazis heads and others, devoted to haunting down Nazis and bringing them justice. A very bloody justice.
However "Inglourious Basterds" has really a different centre. Knowing Tarantino's admiration for women in his movies, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the heart of the film is the character of Shosanna Dreyfuss, young Jewish girl who escaped a bloody purge of her family. Years later she changed her name and she owns a movie theatre. And when the opportunity arises, she will be the one who will bring a true revenge toward the Nazis.
Shosanna is charming, but also very cold. Melanie Laurant brings in a mesmerizing performance, built mostly out of tiny moments where calculating and focused on revenge Shosanna reacts in a very human way - Shosanna's path crosses with German hero Fredrick Zoller, who falls in love with her. When he tells Shosanna a story of his accomplishments Laurant beautifully captures both horror of what he did and being impressed by his actions. But her best moment comes when she meets the man who killed her family, Hans Landa in a restaurant. She tries to not give herself up and when he leaves, she collapses in panic.
As with other Tarantino movies there are just dozes of characters here, who are capable of creating a memorable impression in sometimes even a single scene - the soldier at the tavern who just became a father, Shosanna's friend in the theatre, Francesca Mondino played by the unforgettable Julie Dreyfuss from "Kill Bill" movies (Shosanna's last name in the movie is also a tribute to the actress, who quite frankly should be cast in more movies, who can forget Sophie Fatale?) and many others.
About the casting - I read today that Landa was originally supposed to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio. I really like Tarantino's determination of casting DiCaprio as a villain, it didn't work here but he is set to play the reprehensible slave owner in upcoming "Django Unchained". I always said that all DiCaprio has to do to truly, truly shine is to change the characters he plays. I can't wait to see what he will do with the role.
The connections to the other movies include "Scarface", "The Devil's Brigade' and "The Dirty Dozen" among many others. The film's story is presented in a matter known from "Kill Bill" - it's divided into chapters, there are also freeze frames when we are introduced to the characters and the same music cue appears when Landa walks into the restaurant where Shosanna is being introduced as it did in "Kill Bill" when the Bride was looking at the people who were the target of her revenge.
Another impressive sequence is the tavern stand-off scene, which is the perfect mix of raising tension and humour. The scene features characters being undercover and a Nazi officer. They engage in a silly little game. But when something goes wrong, you know that bullets will fly any second now. Another thing with Tarantino is that he is merciless - no matter how great the character, nobody is safe in his movies.
The film has gorgeous cinematography, probably the most beautiful out of all Tarantino's movies. From the very beginning where the blood splatters the cottage and the grass at the serene countryside, through the lovely set pieces and interiors to the amazing finale of the film, that is set in Shosanna's theatre. Everything is filled with ferocious red, red that will then turn into fire.
"Inglourious Basterds", though not as great as "Pulp Fiction" and not quite as memorable as "Kill Bill" is a great film with impressive scenes and great casting and acting. Though I think the fact Waltz is the only actor from Tarantino's movies rewarded with Oscar isn't exactly right (I liked Travolta's work as Vincent Vega and Thurman's Bride much better) his performance is really like a creme on the strudel. What the hell am I talking about? Just see this movie.