A classic example of how expectations can sometimes limit an audience, 'Inglourious Basterds' should be far more wide-reaching than the subject matter suggests. It boasts better one-liners than any straight-up comedy, reminds us of why we can't stop talking about Quentin Tarantino and shows us what Brad Pitt can do with the right part.
The setting is France in the midst of World War II and the Basterds are a group of Jewish-American soldiers intent on terrorising and killing Nazis. Specifically, under the charge of Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Pitt), they are ambushing and scalping Nazi troops throughout the country and becoming notorious in the process. Importantly, particularly in getting towards the end goal of their mission, they are not alone in their desire to bring an end to Nazi-occupied France and will stop at nothing in their quest.
Cinema owner Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent) is of the same mindset as the Basterds and has very personal reasons for her feelings, while renowned actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Kruger) is working (at times unconvincingly) as a spy in the greater masterplan to topple the Third Reich. Help is also at hand from England, where Lieutenant Archie Hicox (Fassbender) is gearing up to join the troops in France, complete with a new (slightly less comical) accent, but one which is about to land him and everyone around him in a lot of trouble. Their opposition is being rallied by Colonel Hans Landa (Waltz) – cunning, sneaky and oddly charming.
All of the plots, which each work well as separate tellings of the characters' stories so far, come together for a final chapter showing the culmination of all their efforts to overthrow Hitler's regime. At this stage the setting is Shosanna's French cinema and the event is the premiere of a Nazi propaganda movie... and the fun is only beginning.
Tarantino is in flying form here. The script is sharp, witty and provokes reactions. The structure of the movie (in distinct chapters) also aids the fluidity of the interwoven plots and passing of time. But casting also plays a major part in making this movie work. On one side Pitt is a real presence as the wise-cracking lieutenant who never seems to lose his temper despite his violent career choice, while Waltz is a perfect counter-balance as the uptight colonel, who thinks far too much of himself and his place in the world. The latter steals every scene he is in, making a hateful character very entertaining. Female leads Laurent and Kruger are also noteworthy in their representations of (ultimately powerful) women at very different ends of the social spectrum.
'Inglourious Basterds' brings us a guilty sort of comedy, mostly through the development of some genius characters. It's unlike anything else from the war movie vault and, as a result, should see new audiences switching on to the work on Tarantino. One of the movies of the summer... and beyond no doubt.