"Inglourious Basterds" begins in German-occupied France, where Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris, where she forges a new identity as the owner and operator of a cinema. Elsewhere in Europe, Lieutenant Aldo Raine organizes a group of...
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"Inglourious Basterds" begins in German-occupied France, where Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris, where she forges a new identity as the owner and operator of a cinema. Elsewhere in Europe, Lieutenant Aldo Raine organizes a group of Jewish soldiers to engage in targeted acts of retribution. Known to their enemy as "The Basterds," Raine's squad joins German actress and undercover agent Bridget Von Hammersmark on a mission to take down the leaders of The Third Reich. Fates converge under a cinema marquee, where Shosanna is poised to carry out a revenge plan of her own.
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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Set in occupied France during the waning days of World War II, Inglourious Basterds jumps back and forth between different storylines over the course of several chapters before bringing them together for one intense, utterly preposterous climax.
The "Basterds" of the film's title refers to an elite group of Jewish-American soldiers assembled by Lt. Aldo Raine, a no-nonsense descendent of Southern moonshiners whose assignment for his troops is simple: Each of them is tasked with gathering the scalps of 100 dead Nazi soldiers before the war is over. With each shocking act of retribution the Basterds perform, word spreads of their savagery, and by the time they arrive in occupied France their reputation is known to every enemy soldier.
Meanwhile, Shosanna Dreyfus, a French Jew who narrowly escaped the Gestapo death squad that murdered her immediate family, has relocated to Paris and established a new identity as the owner of a local cinema. As Nazi patrols blanket the city, she toils quietly under an assumed name, awaiting the day when her own chance at retribution will come.
The destinies of Shosanna and the Basterds converge when Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels decides to hold the premiere of his latest propaganda film, Nation's Pride, at Shosanna's theater. With the aid of Bridget von Hammersmark, a German film star secretly working as a double agent, the Allies learn that no less than the entire Nazi High Command, including Hitler, will be in attendance. Confronted with the opportunity to deliver their unique brand of justice to the Fuhrer himself and end the war in one fell swoop, the Basterds concoct a bold scheme to infiltrate the premiere, rig the theater with dynamite and incinerate its inhabitants with one massive explosion.
WHO'S IN IT?
Always known for his unconventional approach to casting, Inglourious Basterds director Quentin Tarantino assembled a characteristically eclectic group of actors for his latest effort, mixing veterans with newcomers, Americans with Europeans and superstars with virtual unknowns. Sporting a ridiculous mustache and an even more ridiculous Southern accent, Brad Pitt leads the pack in the role of Aldo Raine, while horror director Eli Roth (Hostel I and II) makes his acting debut as Raine's sadistic right-hand man, Sgt. Donny Donowitz. Other notable Basterds include B.J. Novak (The Office), Samm Levine (Freaks and Geeks), Paul Rust (I Love You, Beth Cooper) and Omar Doom (Grindhouse).
It's the cast's European players who really distinguish Inglourious Basterds. German-born National Treasure star Diane Kruger makes the perfect 1940s matinee idol as the turncoat von Hammersmark, while Irish-bred Michael Fassbender (Jonah Hex) oozes with old-school English haughtiness as her charming British co-conspirator, Lt. Archie Hicox. Making an impressive English-language debut in Basterds as the quietly seething Shosanna is the luminous French star Melanie Laurent.
Rising above all of them with a truly Oscar-worthy performance is Austrian actor Christoph Waltz. Waltz is a revelation (to American audiences, at least) as Col. Hans Landa, the highly eccentric and brutally efficient leader of Nazi security efforts in France. Alternately hilarious and terrifying, Waltz's Landa is easily the most compelling big-screen villain since Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. Lest we forget, Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his performance. (Waltz, for his part, already snagged the best-actor prize at Cannes earlier this year.)
Nobody executes dramatic shifts in tone more effectively and powerfully than Tarantino, and Inglourious Basterds transitions breathlessly between moments of high tension and high comedy, brutal carnage and lighthearted whimsy — all of which are peppered with the director's distinctive dialogue and trademark wit. The film is easily his best work since 1994's Pulp Fiction.
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