Inglourious Basterds

Year: 2009
Production Co: The Weinstein Company
Studio: Universal
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producer: Lawrence Bender
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger

We've waited a very long time to see the best Quentin Tarantino movie since Pulp Fiction, but here's one that's finally worthy. Why? It's hard to say, but Tarantino's either a clever and bold enough writer or just so aware of movies that he knows what he can play with, it allows him to slip a completely unknowable yet instantly familiar thing in under your guard.

Playing fast and loose with style, fact and presentation has always been one of his hallmarks. Where a studio marketing committee would be insisting on an action scene at the 'x' minute mark, a romantic interlude by the end of scene 'y' and the introduction of the protagonist within 'z' minutes, Tarantino seems to have no pacing gauge other than what he thinks is cool.

It's an approach that hasn't always worked for him. Death Proof in particular suffered because of the signature (and overlong) round table conversation to the point where it got boring and the chase sequence felt shoehorned in from another movie.

But where else have we watched the introduction of a villain over the first ten minutes of the movie? What's more, it was in a scene where the dialogue on the page would have been so innocuous but where only a talented performer with enough elbow-room could make to make it so tense and heart-stopping?

What other movie would be titled for a band of rebellious good guys that really only prop up an introductory coda and take part only indirectly in the climax?

What other movie would establish historic fact and then toss it all out the window just when you think Tarantino's getting serious? Or feature a David Bowie song on the soundtrack despite being set in the 1940s? Or...

You get the point, and they're just a few of the many conventions Tarantino reduxes, makes his own or ignores altogether. Like the cinema that forms the centerpiece, Tarantino knows he can change this world into one he wants it to be, and he isn't afraid to do so.

As usual describing the plot is a bit disingenuous. The most important details turn on the slightest developments. The most important signposts often happen off screen, or to somebody else. Lead characters die unexpectedly and without fanfare, minor characters come through and end up owning the movie.

But the structural brass tacks involves a band of Jewish American soldiers who lead a guerilla mission simply to strike fear into the hearts of the Nazi forces by torturing and killing them in the most grotesque way imaginable. Led by hillbilly Raine (Pitt), the team's vengeance is exacted by everything from baseball bat beatings to post-mortem scalping.

At the same time, young Jewish Frenchwoman Shosanna (Laurent) runs a cinema in Paris, living with a false name after narrowly escaping the Nazis in the tightly-wound introduction where we meet her nemesis, Landa (Waltz).

When Propaganda Minister Goebells takes a fancy to her cinema and a German film star a fancy to Shosanna herself, the party earmarks her cinema to premiere the latest film from the Nazi propaganda effort. Realising she'll have most of the senior military command of Germany in her cinema, Shosanna hatches a plan to lock everyone inside and burn it down, unaware the titular gang are plotting their own mass assassination.

It's frenetic and crazy like all Tarantino's movies, but you can still see that every frame has been lovingly crafted, from the blocking to everything in it. It almost looks like it was once a comic book, the story just like something that would have come from the era and fraternity that re-imagined history and legend to produce Watchmen, The Killing Joke and other classics of the genre. If there can be such a thing, this is Tarantino's graphic novel movie.

This modern master is back.

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