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“’Basterds’ Is A Bit Inglourious Despite Genius Spots”


The test of a perfect Quentin Tarantino film is how many times you want to sit through it.  I’ve seen “Pulp Fiction” eight times and the “Kill Bill” Chronicles at least six. His latest, “Inglourious Basterds,” has some moments of glory, but ultimately misses the mark due to overindulgence. For me, once is enough.


In 1941, a young Jewish girl (Melanie Laurent) vows vengeance against the Nazis after a Sadist (Christoph Waltz) slaughters her family. Three years later, the Germans are on the downturn, particularly thanks to a rag tag team of American Jewish soldiers led by a half-Apache (Brad Pitt). This squad, like “The Dirty Dozen,” have been giving the Nazis a taste of their own medicine and taking scalps as trophies. The two stories intertwine on one historic night, when Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and several other high level SS leaders will all be in the same room, a Paris theater premiering a propaganda film.


Tarantino’s visuals are striking.  Burned into the mind are several images: Laurent staring by a large window in a flowing red dress, prepares for her evening’s ordeal as David Bowie’s Putting Out The Fire plays on the soundtrack; a final apocalypse of fire, where a cackling Laurent is reflected on a 3D cloud of smoke, pays homage to the angel of death who melted the Nazis in “Raiders Of The Lost Ark;” a wiry Jewish soldier grotesquely scalps a soldier; the final image of a hero carving a swastika into the head of an enemy. Several sequences are branded with Tarantino’s patented suspense, particularly in the opening chapter in a claustrophobic kitchen, a secret rendezvous in a bar, an interrogation at the theater and the unraveling of the final plot to end WWII. These scenes are edge of the seat intense since Tarantino has already proven in the past that anything goes in his films.


His writing is more problematic. The dialogue seems more rambling, reminiscent of his failed “Grindhouse” episode, not as clever or thought out as his classic scripts.  While everything has a purpose in “Pulp Fiction” or “Kill Bill,” here Tarantino seems more proud to hear his own words.  There is also a fine line between the Jewish protagonists righting wrongs and matching the Nazis in their sadism and it’s a personal belief he crosses that line.


The performances are flawless, from Pitt’s Tennessee-drawled leader who matches the Nazis in his bloodlust to Diane Kruger (“National Treasure”) as the elegant German Spy who puts her life on the line; from Daniel Bruhl’s cocky German soldier turned movie star who believes like all Nazis that he’s entitled to whatever he pleases to Melanie Laurent’s cool controlled business woman who only allows her venom towards her enemies to explode when it will cause them the most damage.  Christoph Waltz steals the show as the calculated “detective” for the SS, The Jew Hunter.  A role filled with dark humor and intelligence mixed with a malicious self-preservation, Waltz cunningly never shows empathy for his part but makes the character riveting nonetheless.  A bigger surprise is director Eli Roth as one Inglourious Basterd. His final assault could have been overwrought but instead it’s an honest outpouring of rage and pain, illustrating revenge for the murder of six million Jews in his eyes.


At 2 hours and 34 minutes, Tarantino could have used some strong editing. However, even sloppy Tarantino involves more brilliance than most filmmakers.  Grade: B


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