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In the first year of the German occupation of France, 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 perform swift, shocking acts of retribution. Later 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 at the Paris cinema, where Shosanna is poised to carry out a revenge plan of her own.
For more about Inglourious Basterds and the Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray release, see Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on December 3, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger
» See full cast & crew
Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray Review
Tarantino's brazen masterwork earns a truly glorious Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, December 3, 2009
I don't think anything -- an intimate knowledge of writer/director Quentin Tarantino's canon, a love of inventive arthouse cinema, or an overview of the film's storylines and characters -- could have possibly prepared me for Inglourious Basterds, one of the most inspired and ingenious films of 2009. More than a fearless reimagining of Enzo Castellari's The Inglorious Bastards (a bloody bit of '70s escapist exploitation that bears little resemblance to Tarantino's Oscar-worthy tour de force), more than a provocative revenge fantasy brimming with snarky subtitles and startling shootouts, Inglourious Basterds cuts a blazing swath through the heart of Nazi-occupied France with mesmerizing performances and nearly unbearable tension. Its theatrical trailers have been revealed to be over-seasoned appetizers for a far more complex main course. The buzz and critical acclaim it's received since its release have failed to convey how rich and elaborate its narrative truly is. Even this writer's humble and wholehearted review will prove itself inadequate in expressing how wonderfully rewarding Tarantino's latest film can be. Simply put, abandon all expectations ye who enter here.
First things first, Inglourious Basterds is not a Brad Pitt vehicle. Pitt appears, sure. He even makes the most of his infectiously funny scenes as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, the leader of a special unit of Jewish American soldiers tasked with killing anything and everything wearing a swastika. But he's merely a supporting player in a perfectly cast ensemble whose success rests on the performances of several relatively unknown actors. Christoph Waltz steals the entire film as Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, a ruthless interrogator whose unassuming smile disarms his enemies and conceals the vicious monster resting behind his gentle eyes. His introduction is an unnerving twenty minute salvo in which he discusses his life's work with a father of three (Denis Menochet) hiding a family of Jews beneath his floorboards. Shockingly, Waltz's scenes only grow stronger as he uses several languages to manipulate a series of captives and shine a piercing light in every shadowy corner he encounters. Then there's breakout show-stopper Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna, a girl who once escaped Landa's clutches, fled to Paris, and is now plotting to use a premiere event at her theater to kill as many Nazis as she can. Her determination brings her in contact with Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), a variety of high-ranking German officials and, eventually, Hitler himself (Martin Wuttke, painting a fittingly delusional portrait of history's most reviled madman).
Elsewhere, Pitt and his cohorts -- played by Eli Roth, Til Schweiger, B.J. Novak, and Omar Doom, among others -- are hard at work contacting Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a famous German actress who's willing to provide Aldo's team with information and access to the very same premiere Shosanna is planning to burn to the ground. Working alongside British soldier Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), the Bastards have to outwit a Gestapo major (August Diehl), slip past Landa, and take a shot at Hitler and his high command. The boys are certainly willing, but the mission is suicide. As the two assassination attempts converge, we also meet British General Ed Fenech (Mike Myers), Winston Churchill (Rod Taylor), Goebbells' mistress (Julie Dreyfus), the lone survivor of a Bastards' attack (Sönke Möhring), Shosanna's stoic confidant and co-conspirator Marcel (Jacky Ido), and war hero and star of Goebbels' latest propaganda piece, Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl). But as densely populated as the film becomes, it retains its focus on Waltz's murderous Colonel and Laurent's hauntingly beautiful Shosanna. Both inject gravitas into roles that could have easily been overshadowed by Pitt's presence; both bring a welcome sense of intelligence to a film that could have easily been a WWII-themed Kill Bill (no disrespect intended).
Inglourious Basterds quickly proves itself to be more than the sum of its initially disconnected parts. Simultaneously a simmering psychological thriller, an introspective multi-character study, and an absurdist's dreamscape littered with scalps and gruff vigilantes, Tarantino's slow-brewing stunner is a smartly penned drama and a wry comedy, a harrowing actioner and a restrained, performance driven triumph. As he did with Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds is concerned with the anticipation and inevitability of its violence, not the celebration of it. Almost every major set piece revolves around two or more characters having a conversation at a table, hardly the sort of scenario you'd expect to produce the most intense encounters I've had the pleasure of biting my nails through in the last five years. But that's exactly what Tarantino provides: lingering stretches of hushed chatter followed by brief, explosive bursts of blood-soaked madness. It's these contrasting moments that allow the film to leave such a lasting impact, but it's Tarantino's meticulously crafted five-act screenplay that allows the vignettes and characters to resonate so effectively. Whilst paying tribute to film's enduring legacy, recalling classics of old, and referencing long-forgotten foreign cinema, the Reservoir Dogs auteur serves up the most refined, most fully developed dialogue and characters of his storied career. Each chapter could have been its own film; each character could have been the focus of his or her own tale; each scene could be replayed as a testament to Tarantino's skill as both writer and director.
Even after sitting through two-and-a-half hours of Inglourious Basterds, I would have gladly stayed in Tarantino's Nazi-occupied France for another three. Sure to earn nominations and awards aplenty, don't miss the opportunity to take in one of the most audacious, resourceful, and unpredictable movies of 2009. It's every bit the magnum opus raving critics and eager cinephiles have declared it to be. And you know something, dear readers? I think this might just be Tarantino's masterpiece.
Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Blu-ray edition of Inglourious Basterds features an exceedingly faithful, refreshingly filmic 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that, infrequent ringing aside, looks fantastic. Robert Richardson's fireside palette is awash with warm hues and deep blacks, and his skintones, while a wee bit oversaturated on occasion, are as natural and lifelike as they come. The menacing red flair of Nazi flags pop, sinewy spatters of blood erupt from the screen, and the lush green canopy of a French forest offers a stunning backdrop to the gut-wrenching violence that ensues. Contrast is equally effective, granting each scene the sort of convincing depth and dimensionality often missing from the special effects extravaganzas Hollywood has favored of late. Detail follows suit, imbuing every shot with exquisitely rendered textures and revealing clarity. Note the fine stitching on the actors' costumes, the intricate woodwork of the British war room, the grizzled stubble overtaking Pitt's neck. Any softness that invades the frame is the product of Tarantino's intention, any shadow that overwhelms is by his hand. Both definition and delineation are spot on, and grain, though present to varying degrees throughout the film, is never a distraction.
More importantly, artifacting, banding, source noise, aliasing, crush, and other pesky digital anomalies are nowhere to be found. Slight edge halos appear on a small handful of occasions, but rarely interfere with the integrity of the image. Tempted as I am to award Universal's transfer a perfect score, such brief and unnecessary mishaps -- no matter how negligible -- hold it back from perfection. Regardless, I can't imagine any Tarantino diehard or Inglourious Basterds fan will be anything but ecstatic at the results. I for one couldn't be much happier.
Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is just as impressive, delivering the film's sonic payload as proficiently and powerfully as its video transfer delivers Tarantino's gorgeous imagery. Dialogue is clean, intelligible, and weighty throughout, and effects, no matter how insignificant or subtle, are crystal clear. The LFE channel tackles sudden gunshots and explosions with the same tenacity it brings to the film's chaotic endgame, and lends pulpy presence to cracking skulls and gruesome baseball bat kills. Likewise, the rear speakers bring the French locales and interiors to life, placing listeners in the middle of a basement bar, the hall of a crowded theater, the cramped confines of a veterinarian's examination room, and wherever else Tarantino's twisted fairy tale takes its guests. But the film isn't all action and gunplay. Conversations and silences dominate the proceedings, and several scenes are eerily quiet. Even so, little goes to waste as the mix uses believable environmental ambiance, riveting acoustics, and the director's subdued yet playful score to keep the soundfield as immersive as it is when all hell breaks loose. If I have any complaint it's that a few pieces of music sound flatter than others. While Tarantino has intentionally toyed with the tonal quality of his selections, the mix occasionally struggles to unite them with the rest of the presentation. Nevertheless, audiophiles and filmfans will be quite pleased with everything Universal's lossless triumph has to offer.
Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
I usually don't comment on disc menus, but I would loop this Inglourious Basterds gem all day if I could. As simple as its design is, the imagery and music that accompany the main menu will put you in the perfect mood to write your own reader review. But you're not here to read about the disc's window dressing, are you? My apologies. Universal's supplemental package doesn't offer a snazzy Picture-in-Picture track or a much-needed audio commentary, but it does serve up a solid collection of rather unique features, most of which are presented in high definition. Still, with less than two hours of content, it could have been better.
Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Inglourious Basterds must be seen to be understood. Trailers, word of mouth, and reviews (yes, even this one) cannot possibly convey the intricacies of its script, the prowess of its performers, or the harrowing atmosphere of its unforgettable scenes. I cannot express how spectacular it all is. To my relief, Universal has treated Tarantino's masterpiece with the utmost care. While its supplemental package leaves something to be desired, its video transfer is a faithful, filmic stunner and its DTS-HD Master Audio track is a rousing, enveloping achievement. Not everyone will adore Tarantino's latest as much as I did, it can be quite divisive in its departure from convention, but it comes with my highest recommendation.
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