Taking huge liberties with historical accuracy, Inglourious Basterds may have historians everywhere wanting to slap Quentin Tarantino’s legs, but it does make for two and a half hours of deliriously doolally entertainment.
Only in a Quentin Tarantino World War 2 film would an assassination plot against Hitler and the most highly polished brass in his Reich revolve around a movie premiere.
Or a crack British spy be sent on a mission not only due to his field experience, but because he was once a film critic.
Or would Brad Pitt be cast as Lt. Aldo Raine, a part-Apache lieutenant leading a squad of Jewish grunts deep into enemy territory on a seek and destroy and scalp mission.
And this is without discussing the director’s encyclopaedic movie knowledge invoking Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, To Be Or Not To Be, Battle of Algiers, The Alamo, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, the original Italian war movie The Inglorious Bastards, and many more.
Enjoyment depends solely on how predisposed you are to indulge QT his passion for dialogue driven scenes. Here he twists and shakes between four languages (English, French, German and Italian), giving every tongue some back-on-form wordplay to wrap themselves around.
Chaptered like a novel, Inglourious Basterds comes across as a series of one-act plays based around the theme of World War 2, allowing that dialogue ample room to flourish.
The finest chapter is a tavern meeting with a German actress and spy (Diane Kruger) attempting to divulge information about the premiere to deep undercover English officers (including Hunger’s Michael Fassbender).
Surrounded by partying German soldiers, it is brilliantly sustained, with power sliding and shifting between Tommy and Fritz due to a wrong word or gesture.
But, the unwaveringly self-confident Tarantino has more than just this ace up his sleeve. Opening the movie with an homage to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, he introduces Col. Landa (Waltz, earning himself a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), the “Jew Hunter” bewitching and outsmarting a French peasant who is sheltering a Jewish family.
Funny, alluring, and lethal, Waltz’s Landa is the true star of the movie, given more to do than Pitt’s Lt. and playing a key role come the finale.
And what a finale. Centred on Shosanna (Laurent), the lone survivor of Landa’s opening massacre, and her cinema where the Nazi propaganda movie premiere will take place, it gleefully mixes historical figures with Tarantino’s characters, climaxing with a grindhouse moment of brutal wish-fulfillment.
Some moviegoers will be disappointed the climactic bullet-ridden conflagration isn’t twinned earlier on, or that the Basterds don’t get to do more basterding.
Aside from an early chapter in which they interrogate Nazi survivors of an ambush and unleash the “Bear Jew” (a remarkably unsettling Eli Roth), and later a quick flurry of gunplay, there is no action sequence to rival The Dirty Dozen, Hell Is For Heroes, or even Kill Bill.
English audiences may also titter for the wrong reasons when Fassbender is despatched on his mission by officer Mike Myers, Austin Powers himself, sporting the stiffest upper-lipped accent since Kenneth More reached for the skies.
But, while QT fans are still waiting for a film that doesn’t rely so heavily on past movie references (the score lifts from Kelly's Heroes, The Entity (!) and Cat People (!!)), this is assembled with too much class to be anything other than a success.
Indeed, it’s Tarantino’s finest film since Pulp Fiction.