Inglorious Basterds 88 248.
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INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (US)
2 out of 5 stars
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Hebrew title: Mamzerim Hasrei Kavod. 153 minutes. In English, German and French, with Hebrew and English titles.
After I saw Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, a woman asked me ("off the record," she said), "Is it good for the Jews?" I'm not terribly comfortable in the role of deciding what might be beneficial to any group (even my own), but I knew what she meant and the (deeply unsatisfying) answer is: It isn't anything for the Jews. Yes, it's about a unit of Jewish-American soldiers dropped behind enemy lines in Occupied France in World War II and tasked with killing as many Nazis as possible. But it's really just a Quentin Tarantino comic-book version of events, or rather his homage to spaghetti westerns, B-movies about World War II (including a Seventies Italian film with the same title) and motorcycle-gang drive-in movies. Is it somehow good for the Jews for audiences to see Brad Pitt, who plays the redneck leader of this unit, carving swastikas into the foreheads of some Nazis (in closeup) and scalping others (also in closeup)? Will it have a positive effect on American support for Israel if teenagers cheer heroic Jews as they kill Nazis instead of evil space aliens, drug-cartel merchants, terrorists or gangsters? The truth is, if Quentin Tarantino is really the soldier we need to enlist in the war against global anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, we're in far worse shape than I had thought.
The more pressing question, of course, should be: Is this film good for the audience? Unfortunately, the answer to that is a resounding no. Inglourious Basterds is just another example of the kind of empty posturing and undisciplined storytelling that has characterized Tarantino's work since he made the fine film, Jackie Brown, more than a decade ago.
Swastika-carving Brad Pitt is the obviously gentile Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of the unit, whose minions include a colorless Eli Roth, Til Schweiger (who plays a German recruit to the Nazi killers and is introduced like a Seventies black superhero), B.J. Novak, and Omar Doom. In the end, the mostly monosyllabic Basterds are outclassed by their enemy, as so often happens when a filmmaker with a sense of humor tries to tell a black-and-white story. The only character in the entire film with any charisma or vitality is Col. Hans Landa, aka the Jew Hunter, played by Christoph Waltz. While the story requires Tarantino to vilify the Nazis, his own sensibility as a pop-culture maven who lives for entertainment made him cast the only actor with real charm as a Nazi and give him all the best lines.
There is a girl, Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), whose family is killed when Col. Landa finds their hiding place (in the movie's most suspenseful scene). She pops up later in Paris, managing a movie theater, not the smartest career move for someone trying to hide, but, hey, it's a movie. I wondered how Tarantino would manage to make a movie without anyone discussing cult movies or pop music, but he inserts some movie references here, when she meets Lt. Frederick Zoller, a German army hero, who has just starred in a film about his own exploits. I found myself musing over the fact that the alias Shoshanna has taken is Emmanuelle Mimieux, surely a reference to the Emmanuelle soft-core porn series and to Yvette Mimieux, the actress who starred in such genre classics as Where the Boys Are and Jackson County Jail. When you've got a will to insert movie references into a script, as Tarantino obviously does, you'll find a way.
While the movie has some well-crafted scenes, it drags on for 153 minutes and gets quite dull in spots, a precedent and a disturbing one for Tarantino. Working with a story where there is a foregone conclusion (the Nazis lose), Tarantino's usually sharp storytelling instinct falters. Is this movie good for Tarantino? Well, it's made a huge amount of money in the US, so I suppose the answer would be yes. But now that he's turned his mind to serious topics, I shudder to think what might be next: Basterds take on Pol Pot? Inglourious Revolutionary Guards? Best not to speculate.