In the first year of the German occupation of France, Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris where she forges a new identity as the owner and operator of a cinema.
Elsewhere in Europe, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) organizes a group of Jewish American soldiers to perform swift, shocking acts of retribution. Later known to their enemy as "the basterds," Raine's squad joins German actress and undercover agent Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) on a mission to take down the leaders of the Third Reich. Fates converge under a cinema marquis, where Shosanna is poised to carry out a revenge plan of her own...
This summer was full of expensive, state-of-the-art spectacle that bored me silly. But at the end of the season, something came along that thrilled, excited, and amused me more than an army of computer-generated robots, aliens, or superheroes. And that movie was Quentin Tarantino's wonderfully surprising 'Inglourious Basterds.'
Although it got shortchanged at Cannes (still, it was the only American film to score an award - for Christoph Waltz's performance as Col. Hans Landa) and got the seesawing hand of ambivalence from most of the American critics, 'Inglourious Basterds' is a one of a kind war movie that's as arty as it is entertaining.
The main story is basically broken up into three stories, each charting a different character's trajectory. Of course, this being a Quentin Tarantino film, all three arcs converge at the end in one of the most spectacular (and cathartic) climaxes in recent memory. (Like the 'Kill Bill' films, Tarantino divides 'Basterds' into "chapters," each with a wonderful title.)
Story arc 1 follows Col. Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz, an SS officer who has earned the nickname "The Jew Hunter." As the film opens (the first chapter is called "Once Upon a Time… In Nazi-Occupied France"), he is interrogating a French dairy owner suspected of hiding Jews. In one of the more stunning camera moves, we glide down below the floorboards and see the Dreyfus family, with teenage daughter Shosanna (Melanie Laurent, covering her mouth to keep from yelping). Tarantino is interested in suspense, in drawing the scene out like saltwater taffy until the tension is so unbearable that something has to break. And when that taffy snaps, terrible things happen.
Arc 2 follows Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, proving that he's the handsomest weirdo character actor on planet earth), the leader of the titular, misspelled Basterds, a troop of plainclothes Jewish-American soldiers, dropped behind enemy lines. Raine's nickname is "The Apache," because he demands 100 Nazi scalps from all the Basterds. As for those left alive - Raine carves a ghastly swastika into their foreheads as a reminder of the atrocities they committed during the war. Among the Basterds is The Bear Jew (filmmaker Eli Roth) and Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), a former German soldier who went berserk and killed a bunch of Nazis.
The third arc is that of Shosanna, now grown and operating a cinema in German-controlled Paris. A German war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) becomes infatuated with Shosanna and suggests that the world premiere of the movie based on his exploits ('Nation's Pride') be held at her theater. Soon, she hatches a plot to kill all the Nazis who attend that premiere, which, oddly enough, dovetails perfectly with a plot hatched by the British and to be carried out by the Basterds ("Operation Kino") that involves destroying the same theater.
All of the plot threads come together towards the end with a thrilling, unforgettable, gore-soaked climax the likes of which you've never seen.
Fans of 'Jackie Brown,' who found themselves waiting patiently for Tarantino to stop messing around with and riffing on his favorite 1970's trash movies, and make an honest to God film again, will be happy. This might be his most sophisticated, intricately plotted, gorgeously shot film yet. In addition to all those junky movies he loves so much, his appreciation for European cinema is clearly on display (a good 75 percent of the movie is subtitled for crying out loud!), with particular attention paid to the French New Wave. Also, somewhere in there, Tarantino became the master of suspense, with each "chapter" a different set up for his hoooooold and release formula. There's a scene where the Basterds meet a German turncoat in an underground tavern that will blow your mind.
Late in the movie, Brad Pitt looks directly into the camera and says, "I think this might be my masterpiece." I couldn't agree more. This is 2009's best film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Inglourious Basterds' Blu-ray release is a dual-layered 50GB disc. It is Region "free" and has a second disc with a digital copy.
'Inglourious Basterds' is Tarantino's most beautiful film and this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (2.39:1 aspect ratio) faithfully reproduces it for high-def. The results are absolutely stunning.
'Basterds' is rich in period detail, and this transfer is perfect for that. Detail is amazing all around - the costumes (you can really notice the death's head on Landa's cap) and settings (like the autumnal killing field) look truly wonderful, and the little Quentin-verse details (posters etc.) really pop and are more noticeable. All of this stuff works to pull you into his gonzo world.
The color palette of 'Basterds' is surprisingly subdued, with the exception of the color red, which pops up in Shosanna's blush and lipstick, on the Nazi flags, and (this being a Quentin Tarantino film) in the bold splashes of blood. These moments really pop in a truly outstanding way.
Skin tones look great too. Black levels are deep and dark. There's a fine layer of grain that makes it look like an honest-to-god movie. And there are neither technical issues like artifacts or things like blips or scratches or anything else. As far as I can tell, this is more or less a perfect transfer. It's got that dimensionality that digitally reproduced films sometimes lack, but is present and accounted for here.
Equally impressive is the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. A Quentin Tarantino movie really is the ideal choice for any surround sound system, as it's a combination of heavy dialogue and explosive, action-type set pieces.
Both sound absolutely wonderful here. The dialogue, the sharpest and most multi-lingual of Tarantino's career, is always crisp and clear, even when the events surrounding the dialogue get out of control crazy.
The surround really kicks in with something like the tavern sequence in the "Operation Kino" chapter. The ambience and atmospherics are really nice at the beginning of the sequence, with people talking amongst themselves in the background and foreground. And then, when things go to hell, things really kick up another notch, with bullets flying, blood splashing, and debris careening through the air.
Likewise, the killer soundtrack Tarantino has assembled is dynamite. Both his choice orchestral cuts (most of them from other films) and his pop song choices (like the brilliant use of the David Bowie song from 'Cat People') sound radiant on this track. Everything is just gangbusters (there are no hisses or pops or any other anomalies or technical issues, either). This is an exemplary track.
There are also French DTS 5.1 and Spanish: DTS 5.1 audio tracks along with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. On the subject of subtitles, I want to talk about the one thing on this entire disc that annoyed me - it's during the tavern scene in the "Operation Kino" chapter. The subtitles are located on the image (instead of in the black netherworld on the top and bottom of the widescreen frame), and there's a cluster of bottles and other things, halo lit by Robert Richardson's heavenly photography. The subtitles are right over that haloed patch and sometimes you can't read them (or it at least makes it very hard). It was literally the only time I was unhappy watching this wonderful film's equally wonderful high definition presentation.
Universal has assembled a nice collection of special features here that should appeal to the casual fan and the diehard (like me) alike. There could have been more in the way of interactive features, but I'll get to that below.
With just a couple more weeks left in the year, Universal has delivered one of the year's best Blu-ray discs. Quentin Tarantino's orgiastic World War II masterpiece is perfect for repeated home viewing, and with reference-quality audio and video, plus a whole host of engaging bonus features (many of them in high definition), this is a genuinely great package for a genuinely great movie. Must Own.