"This might be my masterpiece," is the last line of Tarantino's new movie, which could be the director's contentment with his farcical WWII actioner, a movie he's been planning for ten years. It may not be a masterpiece, or even his masterpiece, but it's a hell of a lot of fun - Tarantino is back making movies for the audience and not just his mates.
Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine heads up a small team of eight soldiers whose sole mission is to take one hundred Nazi scalps in occupied France. That we know - the posters and trailer have sold us a nutty WWII action-packed revenge movie - but that's not what Inglourious Basterds is all about. In a jaw-dropping opening sequence (that shows Tarantino still has an air for great dialogue that doesn't have to be pop culture waffle), Jewish Shosanna (Laurant), who has been hiding from the Germans, escapes clever 'Jew hunter' Col. Hans Landa (Waltz, in a show-stealing performance). Shosanna makes for Paris where she inherits her aunt's cinema, which catches the eye of German war hero and movie fan Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). Zoller brings her cinema to the attention of Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), who decides that it would be the perfect place to premiere Nation's Pride, a movie depicting Zoller's war efforts (and starring Zoller as himself). The premiere will be attended by the Nazi top brass, including Hitler (Martin Wuttke), who has learned of Raine and co.'s exploits, and Raine's boys have heard he's coming...
Taking its name and not much else from Enzo G. Castelleri's obscure 1978 Inglorious Bastards, Tarantino whips up a loony western with touches of The Dirty Dozen and as many movie references he could poke a bayonet at. With all this going on, Inglourious Basterds can be accused of being unfocussed, of forgetting its main narrative thrust. That's true, but it's so zany and odd and bizarre, the best way to enjoy it is let it wash over you. Those expecting guns and shootouts and whatnot will be disappointed, as it's not as violent as we're led to believe, but that's okay too because the movie works better in its quieter moments. These moments usually star Christoph Waltz but there's one stonker of scene where he's absent - just wait for the tavern scene - where Michael Fassbender's tally-ho English officer poses as a German officer.
Pitt might be the marquee name but he's part of an ensemble cast. If Fassbender was given more screen time he might have outshone Waltz, but the Austrian actor makes the film his own. Switching effortlessly from German to English to French (only a third of the movie is in English, by the way) and back again, he plays with Waltz in an almost camp fashion; he has fun with Landa, and the audience is caught between smiling and running scared. Diane Kruger, playing famous German movie star, weighs in with a steady performance and Mike Meyers is unrecognisable as an English toff.