Monday, December 28, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

I met a fellow Jew yesterday who said she thought the humor in Inglorious Basterds was delightful. I could not relate. Perhaps she liked it because some of the violence is on the other foot.

Inglorious Basterds shouldn't be taken for history, not in the least. Director Quentin Tarantino borrows heavily from spaghetti westerns and makes a sort of Jewish Dirty Dozen.

Tarantino is famous for his raw scenes of violence. He's also famous for long scenes (think Kill Bill, Volumes 1 & 2) of people just talking at each other. This movie has both. The exposition scenes are actually wonderful, as we see our characters a little sharper. When Colonel Landa asks for another glass of his host's delicious milk just before he kills almost everyone in the house, we see another side of the colonel, a rather despicable, sadistic side. The heretofore-unknown Austrian actor who plays him, Christoph Waltz, is really amazing in this film and I'm sure we'll see him again.

I wish I could say the same thing about the "star" of the film, Brad Pitt, who plays LT Aldo Raine. The name and role is surely a nod to Aldo Ray, the raspy-voiced actor who was in almost every WWII movie I ever saw. While Ray seemed real, Pitt only seems to embody his caricature. And, as the leader of the Basterds, the Army's Jew group of Nazi killers, when he orders a scalping, we wonder which side we should join.

The Basterds are only part of the story, a small part, actually. There are many parts, including Shoshanna, the Jew-in-hiding who's running a French movie house and who attacts the amorous attention of a Germany war hero (actor Daniel Bruhl). There's the German actress-turned-spy, Bridget von Hammersmark, played by Diane Kruger in the smallest but best role she's had so far in her career. And there are several other roles which feed into a plot to kill Hitler and his top-ranked henchmen.

The cinematography is gorgeous, the acting hit-and-miss depending on the actor, the narrative all-over-the-place. Thanks to Tarantino's directorial prowess, the movie isn't a mess but orchestrated bits of chaos thrown together. It makes a story, to be sure, but the pieces are perhaps greater than the sum. The violence is ghastly, particularly the scalping scenes, and they're made more horrible by their respective hosts' indifference.

See Inglorious Basterds at your own risk. For me, thumb's down.


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