If he's a kid stuck in the past, this spaghetti -western/WWII pastiche might just prove him the smartest director still playing war games in the sandbox.
Characteristically, the story's out of order: Cutting between duel narratives, the film follows a group of Jewish-American soldiers - "The Basterds" -- in their unforgiving Third-Reich bloodlust and also waxes nostalgic on the life of a cinema operator in Nazi-occupied Paris. The story lines are linked, often drawing unexpected parallels, though the separate tales' characters are never aware of one another. Making sense of this alternate history for the first time can get a little tricky. But the split structure reinforces the viewer's visceral investment and never panders to the audience, allowing the plot to develop naturally; like international events unfolding on a newsreel.
True darkness can hide anywhere; cold-hearted malice
masked with carefree laughter and a sparkling smile.
Through elegantly paced, diabolically unraveling scenes - like the gripping, slow-burning opener - Tarantino re-imagines WWII's evils at home with the smarmy villains in John Ford and Howard Hawks westerns. His devils aren't stereotypes, frothing at the mouth as they deliver tedious monologues. True darkness can hide anywhere; cold-hearted malice masked with carefree laughter and a sparkling smile. Christoph Waltz as "The Jew Hunter", the film's central villain, oozes this wicked charm. Presenting a dynamic portrait of a calculating sociopath, his performance ignores other films' lazy parodies of Nazis as robotic and one-dimensional.
But as serious as all this Nazi killing, 'world in peril' business is, Tarantino still pauses to marvel at and muse on cinema. His erudite knowledge and reverence for the art's history - as well as its characteristic escapism - is embodied by the theater owner Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) and her Nazi war hero admirer, the naïve and conflicted Oberschütze Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl). As the two discuss classic films, the dialogue seems to comment on the motivation behind "Inglourious Basterds". Movies, even bad ones, encapsulate the director's philosophy of art. And by piling all of his stylistic traits into the film, Tarantino reveals that even though it's a WWII movie - clearly, a serious subject - it's still just a movie. And movies are fun, remember?
That lighthearted spirit is exactly how and why "Inglourious Basterds" balances perverse humor and savage violence with intense drama. Scenes of 1st Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and "The Basterds" demonstrating the finer points of Nazi scalping techniques aren't just exploitation fodder, they comment on the movie itself. Tarantino might be playful -- combining disparate styles, pulling laughs from bizarre places -- but he's no unconscionable Basterd.
Watch the trailer for "Inglourious Basterds" here: