I’m usually wary of movies that have been knocking around for years. More often than not, there’s a darned good reason why they were knocking around – they’re unfocused, unfilmable, incomplete, or just plain bad. Quentin Tarantino has had the story for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS sitting on the back burner for around ten years. Ordinarily, this would worry me, but having seen the film I can now say that he couldn’t possibly have made this film ten years ago.

He wasn’t ready…until now.

We meet the basterds in due time, but first we are introduced to Col. Hans Landa of the SS (Christopher Waltz). By 1941, Landa has been nicknamed “The Jew Hunter” for his amazing talent to locate hiding Jews. He isn’t crazy about the nickname, but since he’s earned it, he keeps it. When we first meet him, he is searching for The Dreyfus family – a clan of French dairy farmers that have eluded killing and capture.

Proving that his nickname isn’t one of irony, he does indeed find them, and kills almost all of them…only young Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) manages to escape.

It’s at this point that our story skips ahead three years, and shows us the recruitment of The Basterds. They have been brought together before Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) for the sole purpose of viciously killing every Nazi they can find. Not only are the Nazis to be killed, but they are ordered to be offed in the most sadistic ways imaginable. These killings are not about winning the war – they are about leaving a wake of desecrated bodies to scare whatever Nazis might happen to find them.

It’s around this time that Shosanna meets Pvt. Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). Shosanna is now living under an assumed identity, and running a small movie theatre. He is smitten with her and is trying to humbly play up his status as a war hero. She is still trying to stay alive and wants nothing to do with him.

However, she wins both his favour and that of his superiors. So much so, that they offer her the chance to host the premiere of a propaganda film. At first she resists, but when she learns that many high ranking Nazi officials will attend, she believes she can use the evening as a way to exact revenge in one fell swoop.

As fate would have it, The Basterds find out about the festivities as well, and try to use it to enact a fell swoop of their own.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is one well crafted movie. It takes its somewhat long running time, and completely fills it with nothing but tense scenes loaded with snappy dialogue. Most of the scenes are seperated by a title card (a la KILL BILL), however they proceed to build upon one other. By the time its all over, the audience has a complete nuanced story, as opposed to a series of loosely related vingnettes.

It should surprise nobody that this is a violent movie, but the violence isn’t wall-to-wall the way some of the marketing might have you believe. Indeed, the audience spends more time squirming at the anticipation of a gun going off, rather than shielding its eyes from the bloodbath that ensues. The violence is intense, but avoids seeming like some twisted fetish peppered into a film for shock value. But be warned, when the bombs, guns, knives, and clubs do come out – they make the most of their screentime.

The cast is quite a large, but a few of them do stand apart from the heard. First and foremost is Christopher Waltz, who won the best actor prize at Cannes for his role. It isn’t difficult to see why, as he constantly carries himself as if he’s already figured out what he needs to know, even if he hasn’t. The man is so intimidating, he can make you feel uneasy while he joyfully eats a piece of struedel.

As for the good guys, Eli Roth gains the most attention as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, or “The Bear Jew” as he’s called. He might well be the most violent basterd in the squad. While he has an all-american boyish look, when he goes to work his expression urns to one of equal measures fear and blood-lust. Then of course there’s Mr. Angelina Jolie. He’s hamming it up to a degree, but he gets most of the best lines so it all stays fun. It feels a bit like he’s doing the same accent he did in KALIFORNIA, but he plays it for laughs – especially when he tries to take that Tennessee accent and speak Italian.

That leaves us with the original rock star director. I count myself as a fan of Tarantino movies, but I must admit that he often seems to be making them to amuse himself and his movie-geek brood. All of his scripts and directorial efforts not named PULP FICTION are less interested in being a stand-alone film, and more interested in being a basin of witty lines and homages to niche genres.

With that in mind, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is a huge step for Tarantino. He has taken what he does best, and used it to build a more cohesive story. While his scenes are still snappy, and bound for the pop culture lexicon, they seem more aware of each other than many of his other movies. It comes together to form his best narrative in fifteen years; one less interested in being a tribute, and more concerned with presenting a compelling story.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is more western than it is war, and every detail of it has been carefully composed. Indeed, it’s been constructed in a way that reflects years worth of attention and precision. It’s a film less interested in making a statement about the world we live in, and instead wants us to take a moment and play “what if?”.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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