Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christopher Waltz
“This is the face of Jewish vengeance!” declares the protagonist of “Inglourious Basterds” as a room full of high-profile Nazi commanders is engulfed in flames, and two machine-gunners riddle their corpses with bullets. Welcome to Quentin Tarantino’s world – one where Nazis fear Jews, and World War II is just the backdrop of a fairy tale.
By far his most accomplished work in a very long time, “Basterds” still suffers from the typical shortcomings of a Tarantino movie. One of my biggest problems with him is that he always manipulates the viewer into not only accepting, but cheering on horrendous acts of brutality. Violence as entertainment is nothing new for the director of “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “Kill Bill” (2003/2004), but “Basterds” takes this concept one step further. It’s strangely enjoyable to watch a Nazi get his brains bashed in with a baseball bat, or a swastika carved into his forehead. Why? Like all Tarantino movies, the gruesome scenes are ultra-stylized and therefore rendered fairly digestible. But his latest project makes matters even worse – the violence comes off as justified. You never think twice about the terrible things you’re seeing on-screen precisely because it’s Jews dishing it out against Nazis. And, while it’s true that all too many World War II movies sheepishly depict Jews as helpless victims, there’s something a little perverse about portraying them as rigorous exterminators, and then saying their behavior is okay.
Yet, the fact that the film’s bloody climax takes place inside a movie theatre is Tarantino’s way of reminding the audience (and the critics who complain about the violence in all of his films) that it’s just a movie. And, judging in terms of sheer entertainment value, “Basterds” is the equivalent of a Big Mac – disgustingly indulgent but satisfying.
If you can get passed the film’s questionable morality, it really is a fun-filled romp. Everything from the wacky premise to the deliberately misspelled title is a testament to the director’s love for pulp, an art-form he’s crowned himself the king of. That’s all well and good, but I’m still waiting for him to make a movie that aspires to be something more than a refined pile of garbage.
SIDENOTE: While “Basterds” never really ceases from being Tarantino’s movie, for once it isn’t only all about him; he actually removes himself enough to allow someone else to bask in the spotlight. Christopher Waltz squeezes in a show-stopping performance as the villainous “Jew Hunter,” one he was rightfully awarded for at Cannes.