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Inglourious Basterds Is A Lot Of Wrongs Adding Up to Right

Inglourious Basterds
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Weinstein Company, 2009

I don’t recall anyone throwing up any furor over Watchmen when that film (based on the graphic novel) depicted the US winning Vietnam and Richard Nixon going on to enjoy more than two terms of a Presidency.  Yet, it is no surprise that when people were getting early looks at Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, there was an uproar at how many liberties were taken with actual history.  I mean, this is a sensitive subject: Jews taking revenge on World War II atrocities without a hint of remorse, religious or otherwise.  And just the fact this story never happened.  Hell, if it did happen, the war would have been entirely different.  To me, this is the point.  It’s an alternate reality.  But, some people are way too sensitive about these things.  I don’t think it’s wrong to fantasize about a different outcome.

And for everyone who thinks they speak for all Jews everywhere that this bloodthirsty revenge just isn’t their style: I’d direct you to the great scene in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up where Seth Rogen hails Steven Spielberg’s Munich: Every movie with Jews, we’re getting killed.  Munich flips it on its ear: We’re capping motherfuckers!  Yes, Spielberg’s film portrayed the assassins of Munich as having remorse for their actions, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a sort of catharsis for some people.

Inglourious Basterds is a fairy tale (beginning with “Once Upon a Time…in Nazi-occupied France”) with an expert opening scene involving SS Col. Hans Landa (the excellent Christoph Waltz) and hidden Jews on a French farm.  Always pleasant on the exterior, his niceties hide a brutal interior, meaning every little pleasantry is an extra dagger of tension.

After we see that of which Landa is capable, we move on to the “Basterds” of the title, led by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt).  The Basterds are a group of US soldiers dedicated to killing Nazis in brutal fashion.  But, a few of them get their chance to live, if they talk.  Either way, Raine gets what he and his band of bloodthirsty comrades want, and no one gets off scott free whether they cooperate or not.  When one particular Nazi sergeant refuses to talk, Raine calls on the man known as “The Bear Jew” (Hostel director Eli Roth), who carries a bat to bash Nazi brains.  Make no mistake: the violence here is pretty brutal, especially since Raine has required his men to bring him 100 Nazi scalps.

A Jewish survivor of Landa’s cruelty, Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), has changed her name to Emmanuelle Mimieux, has grown up, and has opened a movie theatre, where she is pestered by German war hero Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), a man who sniped hundreds of Allied soldiers from a tower.  A movie called Nation’s Pride depicting Zoller’s heroism is having a premiere at the Ritz, until Zoller, smitten by Dreyfus, uses his celebrity to move it to the smaller venue.  With a number of top-ranking German officials, including Hitler (Martin Wuttke) and Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) set to be at the premiere…Dreyfus might have her chance to exact revenge.

But also catching wind of the premiere are the Basterds, who make their way towards it and run into famous German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who is sympathetic to their cause and traveling with men posing as German officers.  Hammersmark is involved in the next big, tense, expert scene involving an SS officer (August Diehl) who finds her company’s accents odd.   Hammersmark has the means by which to sneak the Basterds in, but Landa, who is extremely sharp, is around to make things difficult for them.

You may be able to glean from my introduction, I don’t care at all about the movie’s lack of historical accuracy.  This is not a movie proclaiming to be a true story.  If it were, then we might have a point of criticism here.  Even if Tarantino did decide to call this a true story, we’d still really be hard pressed to take him seriously.  As such, what we have here is a comic book representation of what ifs, a hindsight-fueled revenge fantasy.  It’s how comic books became popular: the outcast, or nerd, or weakling, finding a way to turn the tables.  Spider-Man doesn’t exist, but wouldn’t it be great if he did?

Once again, Tarantino has a way with dialogue, with movie history, with making movies.  The man behind the camera is a scatterbrained nut when he speaks in interviews, but he knows exactly what he wants when he makes a movie, and his glee in filmmaking translates well.  The actors who work with him always bring their best, which is a tremendous skill.  With all the original negative buzz about this flick, I prepared for the worst, but it turns out that Tarantino’s movie is the best of the year so far.  This summer, we’ve been treated to a lot of movies overlong and self-indulgent (Transformers 2, Funny People), but this is how a long, indulgent movie should be done.

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