Inglourious Basterds opens with a scene that builds absolute dread in its audience. This dread is both created and countered in parts by an amusing and engrossing performance by Christoph Waltz as a German SS officer, Colonel Hans Landa, in France during 1941, who is tasked with searching the homes of those who have sheltered Jewish families. Landa employs elaborate, anecdotal, almost lyrical dialogues to make his point, using animal instincts to justify human hatred. This is the hand of director Quentin Tarantino at work and he delivers to us a film, fractured as it is in parts, that is an inventively novel epic.
Basterds is European in style, but American (and utterly "Tarantino-esque") in its impudence. The staged, deliberately indulgent scenes of wall to wall dialogues are playfully inventive with words and sentence structure. In the hands of someone else, moments such as the brilliant opening, where Colonel Landa (think a passive aggressive Dennis Hopper crossed with Christopher Walken) asks permission of his host (and in some ways gets audience consent) to switch dialogue from French to English, would seem odd and showy, but Tarantino's deft handling of the situation and his mastery of the cinematic medium (scripting, editing, brilliant mise en scene) benefit him endlessly. This film continues to show the filmmakers great maturity, thematically, but also with the precision of its storytelling (it's no easy task to set flashbacks within flashbacks that don't confuse us) and the films ambitiously sprawling milieu (composed over 5 chapters) can be compared to that of either Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown, two of Tarantino's previous bests.
Audiences should be wary of what to expect (or not expect) from the film. Brad Pitt headlining the cast just gets enough screen time to label his inclusion an extended cameo, in what is mostly an ensemble piece (though his natural charisma provides some of the most ingenious cinematic guffaws this year). The film is neither a World War two actioner ala The Dirty Dozen, nor an art house talky (though there is a lot of talking). It is perhaps closest in tone to Tarantino's own Kill Bill – being a whimsical revenge daydream that systematically tries to rewrite the history of World War Two.
Basterds is certainly fresh, audacious and bold and the fantasy ending, set in a Parisian cinema to both enrage and excite the cinephile in us, only cements this judgment. One of the years best. - Faizan Rashid