Pros: An entertaining summer movie that doesn't assume the audience has brains of broccoli.
Cons: Overblown. But that's the point.
My movie is not about Vietnam... my movie is Vietnam.-Francis Ford Coppola on Apocalypse Now
It is possible to see that quote as a prime example of directorial hubris. However, it can be forgiven somewhat if the final result is great. Considering that the movie in question is a masterpiece, we can forgive Coppola his hubris.
Upon getting home from seeing Inglorious Basterds, I find myself reflecting that Quentin Tarantino didn't want to simply make a movie about World War II. No, he wanted to make a movie that is World War II. And I will be damned if he hasn't near succeeded.
Let's get something straight first. This is NOT a historically accurate World War II movie. Looking for one of those? I can suggest a few excellent ones: Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan". Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers". Spike Lee's "Miracle at St Anna". All of them great historically accurate films that entertain you and draw you in. This film is out to entertain and draw you in without functioning as a history lesson. In essence, if those other films were the "Platoon" of World War II movies, this is the "Apocalypse Now".
In making Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino looked past the aforementioned recent ultra-realistic war films and instead looked back to classic Hollywood ones. The most obvious homage is of course to "The Dirty Dozen". But there are also elements from classic Sam Fuller movies as well as comedic lifts that would do Mel Brooks proud.
The "basterds" of the title are a Dirty 8. Their leader is Lt Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) a Tennessee hillbilly out for Nazi blood. Eli Roth plays Donny Donowitz AKA "The Bear Jew" whose specialty is walloping the shit out of Nazis. There's also a member of the team called "the little man" played by BJ Novak and the psychotic Hugo Schlitz played by Til Schweiger. The basterds mission: kill Nazis.
That's the main plot. The other plot involves a young Jewish woman named Shosanna Dreyfus played by Melanie Laurent. After escaping being slaughtered along with the rest of her family by SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) she's taken to hiding out in Paris and operating a movie theater. But secretly she burns for revenge on Hans. So all of these threads will eventually intersect at some point. There's also Samuel L Jackson as the occasional narrator, Diane Kruger as an actress who later on figures into the plot, Mike Myers as a British general and Martin Wuttke as Der Fuhrer himself.
So yes, you would be accurate saying that Inglorious Basterds is overblown. But that would also be beside the point. Tarantino lives to blow things up and not in a childish Michael Bay way. Some people have accused Quentin of borrowing or even plagiarism. Not quite. What he does is go back through film history, take various bits and pieces and blows them up in his own distinctive style. That works quite well here as we watch Pitt and co set out to win the war their own way. Way over the top to be sure. But again, this is Tarantino, not Bay, and so there's time for dialogue and moments of humanity. Humor too, albeit humor of the darkest variety.
Pitt does a good redneck Lee Marvin impression as Raine. Roth gives the Bear the right psychotic touch. But the two stand out performances are Laurent and Waltz. Waltz plays a truly cultured villain who always stays away from the comic book caricature he could've easily become. Even in his final scenes, he's still believable. Laurent is a shattered woman trying to stay alive yet still determined to avenge the demise of her family. Based on these performances, these are two actors to watch.
Inglorious Basterds is nowhere near subtle. But it's definitely the best movie to come out of a summer full of big budget mediocrities designed for no purpose but to get asses in seats. Not exactly for kids. But if you're fed up with GI Joes and Transformers and want a movie that will entertain you for 2 and a half hours, this is the one to see.