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Review: Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds opens with a Ennio Morricone score spliced with an idyllic shot of French dairy farm where a tired man sees a troubling sight. Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) advancing in a menacing fashion.

Landa's entrance is a friendly one, but he leaves the man's home a far more horrifying place than he found it. Reminiscent of Angel Eyes' first scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, something bad is about to transpire, but we dare not tear away our eyes from the enigmatic Landa. Only one of the refugees makes it out alive and with a shot (a knowing nod to John Ford's The Searchers) out of Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) bolting out of the basement with Landa bidding her farewell.

Lt. Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt) leads a regiment of Jewish-American soldiers set about turning the hearts of Nazi soldiers into cowering rats. Pitt's turn as the Appalachian Lieutenant almost absolves his background performers completely, while they may turn the tables on the Nazi's, Raine is the only soldier we care about. When the plot to kill Hitler goes down in Shosanna's theatre he turns a simple line in Italian that brings down the entire audience. Still, Mr.'s Pitt and Waltz are not the owners most captivating performance in Basterds, that privilege would belong to Melanie Laurent as Shosanna.

Shosanna is a woman who did what the entire armed forces couldn't. Strong women have always been central in Tarantino flicks and Shoshanna is certainly no different. Whether she's ridiculing the German Pvt. York (pretty sure Gary Cooper didn't appreciate that) or stockpiling nitrate film prints for her own operation, she is someone an audience can admire.

Tarantino uses violence in Basterds as he usually does: in a manner that reveals something about the audience that other films never seem to accomplish. When Hitler, Goebbels, and the rest of the Nazi forces are cheering along with the film-within-a-film Nation's Pride the audience is aghast at the commendation of Nazi violence against American armed forces.

However, when the tables are turned against Hitler and his men, the moviegoer finds him/herself cheering. What's not to be happy about? This is how a satire of violence is made, not shoving it in your face ala Michael Haneke in Funny Games.

For all the fun and games of the film, it also raises several questions about what kind of history we are living in. Revisionism, something merely to be waved off for generations has become serious. With textbook curriculum advisers in Texas insisting which historical figures should be wiped off of the face of the Earth, who is to say that there isn't an equivalent of Nation's Pride being taught?

Quentin Tarantino's war-revenge-fantasy brings about the ultimate wish for many people raised in a more innocent time: killing Hitler. Nothing could be simpler. Many of Tarantino's past works like Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2Death Proof  featured revenge, but nothing like this.

With Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has crafted the cinematic triumph of his career. A revisionist history film that doesn't border parody.

***1/2 out of ****

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