Although Quentin Tarantino has cherished Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 "macaroni" war flick The Inglorious Bastards for most of his film-geek life, his own Inglourious Basterds is no remake. Instead, as hinted by the Tarantino-esque misspelling, this is a lunatic fantasia of WWII, a brazen re-imagining of both history and the behind-enemy-lines war film subgenre.
There's a Dirty Not-Quite-Dozen of mostly Jewish commandos, led by a Tennessee good ol' boy named Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who reckons each warrior owes him one hundred Nazi scalps--and he means that literally. Even as Raine's band strikes terror into the Nazi occupiers of France, a diabolically smart and self-assured German officer named Landa (Christoph Waltz) is busy validating his own legend as "The Jew Hunter. " Along the way, he wipes out the rural family of a grave young girl (Melanie Laurent) who will reappear years later in Paris, dreaming of vengeance on an epic scale. Now, this isn't one more big-screen comic book. As the masterly opening sequence reaffirms, Tarantino is a true filmmaker, with a deep respect for the integrity of screen space and the tension that can accumulate in contemplating two men seated at a table having a polite conversation. IB reunites QT with cinematographer Robert Richardson (who shot Kill Bill), and the colors and textures they serve up can be riveting, from the eerie red-hot glow of a tabletop in Adolf Hitler's den, to the creamy swirl of a Parisian pastry in which Landa parks his cigarette. The action has been divided, Pulp Fiction-like, into five chapters, each featuring at least one spellbinding set-piece. It's testimony to the integrity we mentioned that Tarantino can lock in the ferocious suspense of a scene for minutes on end, then explode the situation almost faster than the eye and ear can register, and then take the rest of the sequence to a new, wholly unanticipated level within seconds. Again, be warned This is not your "Greatest Generation," Saving Private Ryan WWII. The sadism of Raine and his boys can be as unsavory as the Nazi variety; Tarantino's latest cinematic protégé, Eli (director of Hostel) Roth, is aptly cast as a self-styled "golem" fond of pulping Nazis with a baseball bat. But get past that, and the sometimes disconcerting shifts to another location and another set of characters, and the movie should gather you up like a growing floodtide. Tarantino told the Cannes Film Festival audience that he wanted to show "Adolf Hitler defeated by cinema. " Cinema wins. --Richard T. Jameson
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