Most World War II movies feel as though they're fossilized in amber like a "Jurassic Par" mosquito. There's always a bit of distance and "sit up in your seat there, boy, pay attention"-ness to them.
With "Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino takes a baseball bat to the amber. He gives us a WWII flick that feels like a dirty story your grandpa would have told you if he got drunk enough. It's officially the most historically accurate film about the war ever made, because it shows how Adolf Hilter actually died in a movie theater, Mike Myers spent his pre-"Wayne's World" career a mugging British officer and everything anybody ever said sounded as zippy as though it had been written by Tarantino.
One of Tarantino's goals in the film seems to be to surpass the grotesqueness of his "Reservoir Dogs" ear-slicing scene. You see Louisville sluggers splatter Nazi brains, knives carve swastikas into foreheads, and let's not even get into all the scalping. It's disgusting, repulsive, and Tarantino through and through. The violence isn't symbolic or profound, it's just there for its own sake. Tarantino just tosses it in there because he can, much the same way he dutifully misspells both words in his title and includes a gratuitous scene to indulge his foot fetish. He's built a mythos on redefining the cinematic world through his own willfully immature, defiantly silly point of view, and Lord bless him for it, because I'd take authoritative voice over talent any day of the week, and Tarantino has both.
Every minute of the film seethes with enthusiasm. Is Tarantino is exposing the moral vacancy of war by swapping the Jewish and Nazi roles as unfeeling slaughterers and meek victims? Maybe, but I doubt such thoughts even crossed his mind as he pounded away at this script over the years. This is revisionist history of the highest order, a Sparks Notes version of trivia culled from drug-addled notes scribbled in the margins.
One of the biggest knocks on the movie from the naysayers, other than the usual gripes about Tarantino's vengeance obsession and self-awareness, is that the characters are among his flattest and his dialogue doesn't sing with the jot-it-down-and-repeat it catch-phrasiness of some of his past work. I think I agree, although it hardly wiped the grin off my face. If this is cardboard cutout puppet theater on a street corner, it's good enough to get me to empty my pocket change into the hat. The performances are all excellently tuned for exactly what the story calls for, particularly Brad Pitt's southern-fried Patton-by-way-of-Knute Rockne motivatinal speeches. Eli Roth is no actor, but his stunned oblivion is exactly what loopy Sgt. Donny Donowitz needs. If mustache-twirling Cristoph Waltz doesn't give a best supporting actor worthy performance as Nazi Jew-hunter Hans Landa is, then I'm incapable of identifying such a turn.
But the real star of the movie is Melanie Laurent, undoubtedly Tarantino's new Uma Thurman, as Shoshanna, the wings-plucked manic pixie dream girl who runs her own theater and concocts a masterplan that changes the course of history.
The movie is perfect for what it is, and a hell of a rebound after it seemed the auteur lost a little off the fastball with "Death Proof." I rank "Inglourious Basterds" behind most of his other films, ahead of only "Death Proof" and "Jackie Brown," but it's in the same ballpark as his ingenious classics and by far the best World War II film I've ever seen.