If ever anyone needed proof in this day and age that the auteur theory still holds some merit, they need only look at the films of Quentin Tarantino. His films seem to have a certain style and logic all their own, and his use of dialogue is always something to behold. Arriving on store shelves just in time for the Christmas holiday is Tarantino's latest work – and a perfect example of his style – Inglourious Basterds. The film has cast with international stars and a sprawling, multi-faceted plot which revolves around two attempts to kill Hitler in France during the Second World War. As with many Tarantino films, Basterds is divided into chapters and features several different story threads which come together as the film progresses.
Without spoiling the plot, the threads are most easily divided into three main stories, that of a Jewish woman, Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), who has taken on a false identity in France; a Nazi soldier who hunts Jews, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz); and a team of American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who are in France to kill Nazis with something of a "take no prisoners" attitude. These three stories all come together as the movie theater Shosanna runs is going to end up hosting the premiere of a new Nazi-made film, Landa is running security for the event, and Raine and his group are tasked with gaining access and killing premiere attendee Adolf Hitler.
It may sound like an entirely improbable set of events, and certainly over the course of the two-and-a-half hour runtime it goes far more in depth than described here, but save for the climactic scenes it feels completely believable. This is true for two very good reasons – not only is the cast a top-notch one, but as with all of Tarantino's films, the dialogue is absolutely superb. When these two things – the acting and the dialogue – are combined, what one is left with is an incredibly engrossing affair.
Tarantino, as has been well documented, has an encyclopedic knowledge of films and filmmaking, and this knowledge comes across in every movie he makes. Even the name of this film is a reference to an earlier movie, The Inglorious Bastards, about World War II. Of course, the negative side of this encyclopedic knowledge and his brilliant writing is that at times the film gets bogged down. There are several scenes in Basterds, most notably one in a bar, which run excessively long. As pieces of acting they're good, their well-written and well-directed, and if viewed by themselves might prove completely mesmerizing. However, when viewed as part of the whole film, one gets the sense that Tarantino may be his own worst enemy – these scenes significantly hurt the pacing of the film and if Tarantino wasn't as good a writer of scenes as he is, no one would ever have thought these should be included in their current state. To be fair to Tarantino and those involved in the movie, a longer version of the bar scene does exist in the special features, so some cutting was done, but it was not enough.
The acting, as stated above, is good all-around, even if Brad Pitt does seem to be hamming it up a little much. The stand out actor here is Christoph Waltz, whose Hans Landa is the epitome of Nazi evil. He is an intelligent, good-looking, well-educated man who positively exudes evil. To make it worse, it is an evil that Landa is both aware of and revels in – he knows just how bad a guy he is and he loves it. Waltz gives a performance which is both humorous and chilling at the same time.
The Blu-ray release of the film comes loaded with special features, even if they sometimes are moderately confusing ones. It comes with extended and alternate scenes; a digital copy; the full-version (which is still brief) of the film within the film, Nation's Pride; a piece on the making of Nation's Pride (which is a joke); a chat Tarantino and Pitt have with Elvis Mitchell; a piece in which Mitchell discussing the posters used in the film; some of the "Hi Sallys" (shout-outs to Tarantino's editor); and a interview with actor Rod Taylor, who appears in the film. Those all make sense, even if the roundtable with Tarantino, Pitt, and Mitchell is little more than a fluff piece. What makes little sense is a piece called "Quentin Tarantino's Camera Angel," which is a series of clips of the woman who worked the clapboard for the film; a short piece in which Rod Taylor discusses drinking Victoria Bitter with Tarantino; and the grossly disappointing – or at least poorly named – "The Original Inglorious Bastards." The first of these are, perhaps, a little odd, but in good fun, and certainly not the oddest special features ever included in a film. The last piece however, is at best exceedingly badly titled, and at worst purposely misleading. It is even touted on the box as being included and certainly makes it sound as though the original Inglorious Bastards is included as a bonus feature. It isn't. This extra has a brief interview with Enzo G. Castellari, the director of the original film; some behind the scenes moments from his scene in the new movie; and a trailer for the original film.
The technical aspects of the release are truly outstanding. The colors are bright, the amount of detail excellent, and the amount of dirt or other imperfection negligible. The audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and it too is free of blemishes or other imperfections, the sound is crisp and clear and beautifully balanced. The film's look and sound is up to Tarantino's wordplay and Waltz's acting.
Told in Tarantino's classic wordy, bloody, and well-polished style, Inglourious Basterds is a very good film which one can't help but leave feeling as though it should have been great. To use a sports' metaphor, this is a hit off the top of the wall triple, one which scores all the runners but leaves everyone with the sense that it really could have – and should have – gone out.