- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

“Inglourious Basterds,” the new World War II movie from Quentin Tarantino, is a deeply frustrating film. At times — specifically, when Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine and his crew of Nazi-hunting Jews are on the screen — it’s arguably the best picture of the year, full of the joy and verve and filmmaking prowess that has so marked Mr. Tarantino’s best work.

Unfortunately, Aldo the Apache and his Basterds are only on the screen for about a third of the 2 ½-hour running time. Imagine a version of “The Great Escape” in which John Sturges decided to have Steve McQueen, cool personified, and his ragtag multinational group of breakout artists on-screen for 45 minutes or so, focusing the rest of the plot on the briefly seen Nazis killed in a drive-by at a French cafe after the Allied escape. That’s essentially what Mr. Tarantino has done here.

Comprising five self-contained chapters, “Inglourious Basterds” opens with the interrogation of a French farmer (Denis Menochet) suspected of hiding a family of Jews by SS Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), aka the “Jew Hunter.” Chapter one (titled, in homage to Sergio Leone, “Once Upon a Time … in Nazi Occupied France”) is a tour de force: The intensity Mr. Waltz brings to the role is unmatched by anyone else in the picture and is slightly unnerving. Simply put, Mr. Waltz owns the screen.

Next up is the introduction of Aldo and the Basterds, a group of American Jewish soldiers who have been dropped behind enemy lines to wreak havoc on Nazi morale: It’s funny how nervous the locals get when their enemies begin scalping the dead, taking baseball bats to the heads of the captured and carving swastikas into the foreheads of the (very) few survivors.

Though the opening vignette may be the best act in Mr. Tarantino’s five-part play, “Inglourious Basterds,” as the second chapter is called, is the liveliest, wildest sequence in the film. It’s here where Mr. Tarantino’s bag of stylistic tricks is most fully used, and it’s by far the most enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the movie is all downhill from there. The third chapter (“German Night in Paris”) chronicles the plight of Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a theater owner pursued romantically by the newest star of the German propaganda machine, war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). It is in this chapter that Mr. Tarantino delves into the intricacies of the German filmmaking business and Joseph Goebbels’ (Sylvester Groth) desire to create an Aryan counterpart to Jewish Hollywood, and it is in this chapter that “Inglourious Basterds” grinds to a screeching halt.

It never regains its momentum. Chapter four (“Operation Kino”) takes place in a seedy French bar where the Basterds and a British operative are set to meet with a German double agent who will get them into a premiere at Shoshanna’s theater at which the Nazi high command will be in attendance. Though chapter five brings things to a relatively rousing conclusion, it comes almost an hour too late and long after the audience has been bludgeoned by endless dialogue into no longer caring.

Mr. Tarantino has pulled something of a bait-and-switch here: The advertising campaign for “Inglourious Basterds” promised audiences a rip-roaring World War II action film, not a talky digression into the politics of Nazi filmmaking punctuated with moments of violence. It’s hard to see how the average audience member won’t be disappointed.

★★½

TITLE: “Inglourious Basterds”

RATING: R (strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality)

CREDITS: Directed and written by Quentin Tarantino

RUNNING TIME: 153 minutes

WEB SITE: http://www.inglouriousbasterds-movie.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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