The World War II revenge fantasy flick unfolds via five distinct chapters, each unique in style and energy. In one thread, Brad Pitt stars as Lt. Aldo Raine, a country hick who leads a group of Jewish American GIs on a mission of brutal savagery and wanton ruthlessness designed to strike fear in the hearts of Nazi soldiers. The â"basterds" as they're known, beat their prisoners with baseball bats before cutting the scalps from their heads. Mutilated bodies are left behind as gruesome sentinels. The lucky few who survive are purposefully spared, but not before receiving a lifelong reminder of their Nazi affiliation in the form of a custom-carved swastika in the middle of the forehead.
Despite what we know from the smartly contrived marketing campaign, this Pitt plotline is not the most important element of the film, nor is Pitt's performance the most memorable. He finds the humor and buoyancy in his character, but never touches on the depth and bearing displayed by others. It doesn't matter though, as his Lt. Raine is meant to be the comic relief to counterbalance the film's prevailing viciousness. And as that, both Pitt and his character are extremely effective. As he did in last year's Burn After Reading, Pitt manages to make a hammy, over-the-top performance feel, well... not hammy or over-the-top.
In a parallel story that plays out like a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, we meet German Col. Hans Landa, a.k.a â"The Jew Hunter," played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz, who visits a sleepy German-occupied French farm where he suspects Jews are being hidden. Over the next 20 minutes or so, we experience a scene that illustrates the nimbleness of Tarantino's pen and also sets the tone for the remainder of the film. The dialogue-driven scene is a duel of wits that raises the level of intensity with little more than discourse and facial expressions. We're glued to our seats, expecting a hail of gunfire and a bath of blood, but the scenes ends with a young Jewish girl fleeing through the countryside. We sense we'll see her again.
In the next chapter we meet Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a dignified cinema-owner who is unwillingly preparing to host Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) and the premier of his morale-building epic film Nation's Pride. The fuehrer himself is also expected to be in attendance. Because Shosanna is hiding her identity from the Nazis, her role is mostly internal, but we sense the girl's intense emotion and inner turmoil through the French actress's brilliant performance.
A couple of other storylines involve various tales of French resistance, British espionage, and clandestine plots designed to annihilate the Nazi high command at the movie premier... and effectively end the war. When all these threads eventually intersect, they do so in explosive fashion. A common denominator running through all five chapters is Col. Landa. Waltz embodies the persona of this officer perfectly. Our perception of the Gestapo as boisterous, jack-booted thugs is probably mostly inaccurate. They were more than likely as Waltz portrays his Landa, gentlemanly, debonair and Europeanly sophisticated on the surface, but deadly ruthless and despicable underneath. Waltz is largely unknown here in the states, but this performance by the German actor is likely to be his breakout introduction to mainstream Hollywood. It's not easy to upstage Brad Pitt, especially in such a hammy role, but Waltz certainly does that here... and in no fewer than 3 different languages!
Inglourious Basterds is a funny film. It's also bloody and offensive. But most of all, it's an extremely sad movie sure to make us all stop down and contemplate a fog of conflicting thoughts and emotions. In a testament to Tarantino's brilliant writing, the film's 2-hour plus runtime never drags, in spite of the fact that it's made up of mostly dialogue. Inglourious Basterds is undoubtedly Tarantino's best work since Pulp Fiction, and time will tell if it becomes his best piece of art to date.
The blu-ray disc is fine transfer of the film with some unnaturally heavy saturation in parts, but nothing that distracts too much from Robert Richard's cinematic palette of warm colors. The blu-ray disc, while missing the actor's picture-in-picture commentary and a director's commentary, is heavy with special features:
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish.
Language and Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French: DTS 5.1 Spanish: DTS 5.1
Extended & Alternate Scenes (HD, 12 minutes): Three scenes here: Goebbels lunch sequence, the La Louisiane card game, and a different lead-in to the premiere of Nation's Pride -- and each one is worth watching.
Film Poster Gallery Tour (11 minutes): Elvis Mitchell takes the audience on a tour of the movie posters that are sprinkled throughout the film
Number of Discs: 50GB Blu-ray; Disc Two-disc set; Digital copy; BD-Live; D-Box.