Inglorious Basterds is a film that is not, in spite of its marketing, its posters, and its trailers, an action film. It’s a thriller. It’s a film that moves from incredibly tense dialog scene to tense dialog scene the way that John Woo goes from gunfight to gunfight.
This, consequently, makes for a film that really depends on its script, its director, and its actors. Good news – this is a Tarantino joint, so you’ve got the first two in the bag, and Tarantino is excellent at putting together a cast who can pull off his material, either on their own, or who he can direct into providing the material he needs.
Of particular note is Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, the film’s primary active antagonist. I say primary active antagonist as, the big bad of the film is, well, Hitler. Waltz won an Oscar for his performance, and it is absolutely deserved – he makes for a fantastic villain, who pulls off that sense of charm and menace that makes for some of the best villains in film. Going from Wikipedia, with the exception of Django Unchained (and Muppets Most Wanted, where he played himself), Waltz has gone on to play a slew of villains, to such a degree that he may be at risk of being typecast. All things considered, looking at Sir Christopher Lee’s career, I can say that there are worse problems to have – cinema can always do with great actors who can play even better villains.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the film’s narrative compression from its original miniseries length costs the film a lot of characterization, outside of the film’s “action dialog scenes”. This hurts the character of Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), as it basically leaves her with a handful of dialog scenes, all of the “action” dialog scene variety. I really wish she’d gotten more screen time. You can do a film that’s all action and still work great – that’s what Mad Max: Fury Road was, but to give the characters room to breath, you do need a smaller cast for that – and this film has a fairly large cast – probably the largest cast in all of Tarantino’s work.
All in all, this is one of my favorite films by Tarantino, to the point that I’m going to need to re-watch Pulp Fiction to assess which film is my favorite Tarantino work – this one or Pulp Fiction.