Rewriting the end of World War II is a daring feat that only someone as arrogant and undeniably talented as Quentin Tarantino could accomplish. As we all know from “Inglorious Basterds’” memorable trailer, “killin’ nattzies” is the central plot device of this highly-anticipated thriller, yet there are so many other layers that could make this film Tarantino’s first shot at an Oscar nod since “Pulp Fiction” in 1994.
First, there is Shosanna (heart-wrenchingly played by Melanie Laurent), a young Jewish woman living in Paris who has sworn revenge upon the German Colonel who murdered her family. Shosanna is so real in her fury that she transcends the cartoonish violence usually depicted in Tarantino films.
The German Colonel Landa (Christoph Waltz) is a perfect villain, his smiling cruelty masked by bright eyes and a giggle. Landa also stands out among the characters with his irrepressible energy that is both charming and bewildering.
Brad Pitt is precise and consistent as Lt. Aldo Raine; his satiric Appalachian accent is spot-on and fits together nicely with his squinting, cynical eyes. “Inglorious Basterds” proves once again that Pitt is most enjoyable when he delves into an off-beat character and truly makes it his own—memorable performances from “Burn after Reading,” “Snatch” and “Fight Club” also come to mind. Raine’s character functions with the same biting wit that is synonymous with Tarantino classics, yet he still evokes a sense of righteousness in his brutality.
Anyone who remembers the Mexican standoff in “Reservoir Dogs” knows that Tarantino is a master in creating tension. An awkward lunch and a few drinks among friends become long, painful scenes saturated with suspense to the point where I felt as though I might develop an ulcer in the theater.
The dialogue (also written by Tarantino) straddles several languages—German, English, and French—yet is so well-crafted that the transitions among them are completely seamless. When Shosanna reveals her final plan, she speaks with such poetry that it is obvious that the film’s writing supercedes a typical action flick.
When, in the closing moments of the film, Lt. Raine comments that “I think this just might be my masterpiece,” it is not just Pitt’s character speaking, but Tarantino himself.