Tuesday, Dec. 08, 2009

4. Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino's fantasy war epic was marketed as a Brad Pitt vehicle about a platoon of American Jews set loose on the Nazis. But at heart it's a foreign-language drama (with most of the dialogue in French or German) about a German officer trying to find the perpetrators of a plot to kill Hitler. Col. Landa is a kind of super-sleuth "Jew hunter"; he roams the French countryside, and then the cafés and cinemas of Paris, interrogating suspects in the chatty, ingratiating manner of a Gestapo Columbo. He hasn't the zealot's belief in the Reich; he just works for the Nazis, and when the winds change he plans to sail over to the Allies. But often as not, after he talks to people, they die. Waltz, 53, a veteran of Austrian and German theater and film, lets us see the opportunism behind Landa's courtliness, the preening egotism that sours his brilliance, the predator's instinct that, in a flash, turns him from a gentleman into a killer. Like Tarantino, Waltz is an entertainer; together, they make Landa a man you can respect, enjoy and abhor.