‘Glou­ri­ous’ ex­cess in WWII fa­ble

> Pitt, My­ers en­list, but the real star is di­rec­tor Tarantino

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - News - By Robert W. But­ler

McClatchy News­pa­pers

Quentin Tarantino’s “In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds” may be the most in­ven­tive, ou­tra­geous film of the year, a He­brew re­venge fan­tasy in which Jewish com­man­dos bring WWII to an abrupt end by tar­get­ing the Ger­man high com­mand.

That isn’t the way the his­tory books tell it, but af­ter see­ing this over­ripe won­der you may pre­fer Tarantino’s take.

Though it fea­tures among its play­ers Brad Pitt and sev­eral ex­cel­lent Euro­pean ac­tors, “In­glou­ri­ous” hasn’t any real stars.

Or rather, the only star that mat­ters is the man be­hind the cam­era.

From the very first frame with its crash­ing spaghetti West­ern mu­sic and open­ing words — “Once upon a time in Nazi-oc­cu­pied France ...” — this movie is about a film­maker strut­ting his stuff.

Tarantino dar­ingly sets the tone from the out­set with a 20-minute scene at a kitchen ta­ble be­tween slickly af­fa­ble SS of­fi­cer Hans Landa (a scene-steal­ing Christoph Waltz) and a ner­vous French farmer. Like a cat toy­ing with a quiv­er­ing ro­dent, Landa po­litely asks for a glass of milk, makes small talk, lights his pipe and eases into the rea­son for his visit — to track down a lo­cal Jewish fam­ily that has eluded cap­ture.

“In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds” is be­ing sold as an action film (and there is some truly hor­ri­fy­ing yet weirdly com­i­cal vi­o­lence here ... re­mem­ber “Pulp Fic­tion”?), but most of it is like this open­ing se­quence — long con­ver­sa­tions that un­fold in real time.

In the hands of al­most any other film­maker we’d grow weary of all this talk, talk, talk. But Tarantino fash­ions each en­counter like a one-act play filled with sub­tle shifts in em­pha­sis and packed with ever-chang­ing dy­nam­ics. Even when the topic is be­nign, some­thing sin­is­ter al­ways lurks just be­low the sur­face.

The mis­spelled “bas­terds” of the ti­tle are a unit of Jewish GIs re­cruited by taskmas­ter Aldo Raine (Pitt) for a spe­cial job. They’ll para­chute into Europe and ter­ror­ize the en­emy by killing without mercy and scalp­ing the dead.

Raine hates the “NAT-zees” and pro­claims: “We will be cruel to the Ger­mans.”

And cruel they are, be­com­ing the bo­gey­men of ev­ery schnitzel-eater’s night­mares.

Tarantino fre­quently seems to be test­ing how much he can get away with. The an­swer: a lot.

Pitt plays Raine as a car­i­ca­ture, a fast-talk­ing, slow-chew­ing, un­so­phis­ti­cated Ten­nessee hill­billy. Like­wise, Martin Wut­tke is all sput­ter­ing and over­act­ing as the Fuhrer him­self.

Odder still, there’s vir­tu­ally no char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment. The var­i­ous per­son­al­i­ties don’t grow or change — they’re as frozen as flies in am­ber.

Yet it works. The scenery chew­ing is off­set by sev­eral solidly grounded per­for­mances. The in­con­gru­ous mu­si­cal choices and un­usual cast­ing — Mike My­ers in a straight role as a stuffy Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer — are coun­tered by the re­al­ism of many of the scenes. For ev­ery ex­cess, an el­e­ment grounds the story in the plau­si­ble.

To the ex­tent it has a plot, the film cen­ters on the ef­forts of the Bas­terds to wipe out the en­tire Nazi hi­er­ar­chy at the pre­miere of a new pro­pa­ganda film at a Paris cin­ema. Their plan is to in­fil­trate as mem­bers of an Ital­ian film mak­ing crew with ex­plo­sives be­neath their tuxe­dos. In other words, Jewish sui­cide bombers.

Un­be­known to the Amer­i­cans, the cin­ema’s blond owner (Me­lanie Lau­rent), a Jew pass­ing as gen­tile, is work­ing on her own plot and has filled the build­ing with highly flammable reels of ag­ing cel­lu­loid.

So ef­fec­tive is Tarantino’s high-wire act that 21/ hours fly by. There may be lit­tle that’s pro­found or mean­ing­ful in “In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds,” but as pure en­ter­tain­ment it has few peers.

Fran­cois Duhamel The We­in­stein Co.

Amer­i­can Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) whips Jewish GIs into shape to para­chute into France to ter­ror­ize the ‘‘NAT-zees’’ — and oddly en­ter­tain every­one else.

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