Lifting the title from Enzo Castellari’s 1978 Italian W.W.II film, Quentin Tarantino begins with “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France” as he creates an alternate-reality fantasy/fable about a small group of Jewish-American soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Aldo “the Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt), a moonshine-maker from Tennessee, who wreak their own savage Nazi “retribution.”
So when the head of the Third Reich’s propaganda bureau, Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Green), decides to hold the premiere of a movie celebrating the exploits of the German Army’s finest sharpshooter, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), in Paris – with Adolf Hitler and all his henchmen in attendance, British Lieutenant Archie Cox (Michael Fassbender) parachutes behind enemy lines to organize the commando Basterds to blow up the cinema, working with glamorous German actress/undercover agent Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). At the same time, the art cinema’s owner, Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), whose family was brutally executed by evil SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) several years earlier in rural France, is plotting with her lover/assistant Marcel (Jacky Ido) to lock the doors of her theater and set it on fire. Everyone meets during the climactic finale in which Tarantino unabashedly rewrites Holocaust history.
Known for his gory, over-the-top violence and witty repartee in “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and 2,” idiosyncratic Quentin Tarantino interweaves fact with fiction and realism with fantasy in a non-linear tale, keeping the tension taut during the far-too-long (2 hours, 32-minute) running time, despite an abundance of dialogue which tends to drag on and on and on. Unfortunately, when the writer is also the director, there’s a tendency toward self-indulgence in length.
Those familiar with Second World War action/adventures will spot Basterdian antecedents in “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Great Escape” and Sergio Leoni’s spaghetti-Westerns, among others, while Diane Kruger’s character is obviously based on Hildegard Knef/Marlene Dietrich, and Mike Myers appears briefly, disguised as General Fenech.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Inglourious Basterds” is an exciting if uneven 8, exhilarating in the theme of Jewish empowerment and righteous revenge.