starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Mélanie Laurent
written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
by Walter Chaw There are two stars in Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino and Christoph Waltz), the one to be expected, the other a shoo-in for Oscar consideration in what's easily the most mesmerizing, commanding performance I've seen in any film this year. The opening sequence, in which Waltz's SS Col. Hans Landa interrogates a French dairy farmer as to the whereabouts of a Jewish family that's gone missing, is, how to say this, perfect, but unlike the other perfect sequences of 2009 (the prologue of Up, the main titles of Watchmen), Inglourious Basterds matches this exceptional moment with another as Landa has a little confection with a rare survivor of his attentions, Shosanna (a stunning Mélanie Laurent); then another as German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) does her best to cover for her three suspicious pals in an underground speakeasy; then another with Landa again as he asks von Hammersmark to put her foot in his lap. At first glance two separate films that only fit together roughly, if at all, it becomes clear during Inglourious Basterds' final chapter, as the ghostly image of a beautiful woman cackles in the smoke above a burning auditorium ("This is the face of Jewish vengeance!"), that this is Tarantino no longer making something new and strange out of his obsessive movie-love, but something dangerous and risky about the ethics of vengeance and the shifting ground beneath moral quagmires we thought we'd put to bed. What better conflict than the last popular war to stage a conversation about whether or not the only reason the winners weren't held accountable for their atrocities is that they were the winners.