Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to rewrite World War II as a 1970s drive-in movie starring Brad Pitt and almost as much blood as Saving Private Ryan. The still-thrilling director — whose last feature was 2004's Kill Bill: Vol. 2, though he did contribute the "Death Proof" half to 2007's Grindhouse — borrows a title and inspiration from a 1978 Italian film, throws in some typically clever wordplay and makes Inglourious Basterds a Dirty Dozen-style action pic with plenty of Tarantino-esque detours.
Opening with a "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France" intro, Inglourious Basterds' first chapter (yes, Tarantino divides his film into episodes again) introduces two characters — an SS colonel and a Jewish girl whose family he kills — who weave in and out of the movie. It's 1941, and Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Pitt, with cocked eyebrows, a Tennessee accent and Clark Gable's mustache) recruits eight Jewish-American soldiers to "kill Nazis." But because Aldo is descended from Native Americans, his gang doesn't just kill Nazis; they scalp them too.
Aldo's warriors eventually hook up with a German spy (played by National Treasure's Diane Kruger), and they hatch a plan to take out most of the Third Reich's top tier, including Hitler and Goebbels.
Inglourious Basterds unspools more like a spaghetti western than a World War II movie. Ennio Morricone is on the soundtrack, and whole scenes play out like one of Sergio Leone's classics. Tarantino's first period film isn't as word-heavy as his other movies (he really can't have his SS officials spouting pop-culture commentary, though he sure does try). Still, it relies just as much on dialogue as action.
Tarantino again uses a series of vignettes — all tied together by characters or plot — to tell his story. There are some flashbacks, but otherwise this is Tarantino's most linearly narrative work. It plods a little more than usual, but the director has loads of fun with this brutal, suspenseful and funny film. Bam-pow! titles introduce characters, Pitt hams up his snuff-sniffin' officer and there's even a scene where a Jew and Nazi discuss silent-movie comedians and G.W. Pabst's films.
Even though Tarantino isn't on rapid-fire here, there are parts of Inglourious Basterds that are every bit as accomplished as Pulp Fiction. He still gets a kick making movies, and the evidence is onscreen. (The climatic scene is even set in a movie theater). Inglourious Basterds messes around with a lot of facts, but Tarantino never suggests that it's anything but film fantasy (wait until you see the ending). It's an adventure that pays tribute to all the war movies over the years that got it right. It's also a tribute to those that got it wrong.