Unsolicited Inglourious Basterds Review
The Basterds and their really, really, ridiculously good-looking leader.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Remember that quote Tom Cruise threw out while promoting his own Nazi flick Valkyrie about how much he hated Hitler when he was a kid? He literally said he “always wanted to kill” Der Führer, which seemed odd only because it came from the mouth of the diminutive couch-jumping psychology expert who tricked Katie Holmes into becoming a soccer mom. Every red-blooded American during and after World War II felt cheated when they learned the conflict’s top villain shot himself in his bunker as the whole episode was drawing to a close. Where was the justice in that? The Allies thirsted for blood; thus, millions of bitter revenge fantasies were born.
Unfortunately, the only people who ever actually get to live out their killin’-Hitler revenge fantasies are big-shot Hollywood actors and directors. Cruise based his on an actual Nazi plot that was hatched to take down Austria’s least-favored export (one that failed almost as hard as Tommy’s film—hey Cruise, next time you make a Hitler movie, hire some goddamn Germans, why don’tcha?). Obnoxious man-child Quentin Tarantino has gone a different route, of course, eschewing fact for something that looks and sounds cool. Inglourious Basterds is the result, a cinematic tale of marauding and renegade Nazi-busters who get caught up in a surprise attack on the Big Mustachioed Cheese himself.
Inglourious Basterds is a frustrating film in that it sets up an intriguing alternate history legend—a group of Jewish-American soldiers who brutally pounce on Nazis and scalp them Indian-style—but does not allow us much time to get properly acquainted with the individuals behind that legend. Instead, brief character sketches are offered; there’s the wise-cracking leader who hails from Tennessee (Brad Pitt), a bat-wielding monster known as the “Bear Jew” (Eli Roth), and a German defector whose grimace is just as frightening as his kill count (Til Schweiger). Yet on the whole, the group remains a mystery. How they all came together, how they interact, even the personalities of the remaining members—it’s all swept under the rug for Plot B.
For the long stretches where the Basterds are absent, we get to know the trials and travails of a young French Jew named Shoshana Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent). Under an assumed identity, Shoshana runs a Paris movie theater that eventually becomes ground zero for the titular heroes and the devilish Nazis they’re fighting. It’s typical Tarantino, of course, to have multiple stories that ultimately end up converging. The problem here is the big payoff fizzles, refusing to give the audience certain moments of conflict resolution it’s been expecting. Even the final assault on Hitler doesn’t feel as cathartic as it should (which is amazing considering how comically graphic it eventually becomes).
That said, large chunks of Inglourious Basterds is delicious fun, fraught with humor (Sam Jackson cameo!) and tension (guns pointed at testicles!) as only that perpetually smirking fool Quentin T. can provide. It is, perhaps, a shame that this film did not transmogrify into the TV show it was originally intended to be. With no discernible time limit or ending, this brief nugget of gory joy could have expanded into a deep “Sopranos”-esque phenomenon. As it stands, Inglourious Basterds is a flickering escapist’s delight, one that will briefly satiate the Roosevelt-era patriot inside all of us.
FINAL SCORE: Three Nazi Scalps (out of four).