Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” is a big, sprawling entertainment that’s less violent than you’d expect and a tad more intellectual, too. It’s the most ambitious American movie at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and definitely the best in competition. Tarantino fans won’t be disappointed, but they may be challenged more than in the past as this film is more thoughtful and textured in its approach than Tarantino’s other famous efforts.
First the good news: Brad Pitt is excellent and well-used as the lead “Basterd,” Aldo Raine, who hails from Tennessee with a strong Southern accent. Pitt proves a deft comic character once again, and Tarantino plays his star card just enough as Aldo’s gang goes out to kill Nazis on behalf of the U.S. Army with glee and abandon.
But Tarantino offers up a number of surprisingly good supporting players who carry “IB” from beginning to end, including Christoph Waltz as a witty but murderous Nazi commander and Melanie Laurent as the young Jewish woman who is not only his nemesis but the film’s determined heroine. They each make indelible impressions.
The film is told in chapters and feels sometimes disjointed. There’s less brutal action than expected (although plenty for some). The longest and most riveting sequence takes place in a German bar and involves Diane Kruger as a German film star who’s trying to help the allies. As Lt. Archie Hicox, Michael Fassbender is top notch driving this piece, which will definitely push his career ahead several paces.
Of course, as in any Tarantino film, there are references galore to Spaghetti Westerns, obscure texts and cinema heroes. Fifties Hollywood icon Rod Taylor even appears as Winston Churchill. Comedian Mike Myers makes a very good cameo as an aristocratic British war secretary.
“IB” is a fairy tale at heart. Nothing about it is historically correct. Tarantino makes it a “meta” experience as film, he claims, as an incendiary weapon could have changed World War II, saved the world and rewritten history. That’s heavy for Quentin Tarantino but maybe its also a sign he’s grown up.