Thursday, May 21, 2009

First Reviews of Inglourious Basterds

In the UK Telegraph:

...Tarantino’s first picture to be set outside America, with much of its dialogue in French and German, it follows a gang of Jewish-American soldiers roar through wartime Europe taking down and scalping any Nazi they can get their hands on.

The problem is that there’s not enough roaring or headhunting. Tarantino, one of the most exceptional choreographers of blood-ballet working today, should have wielded a cleaver to whole sections of this 154-minute non-epic. There is far too much yakking, some of it thickly accented and hard to follow, most of it without the rhythmic zing of his best work. The violence – Brad Pitt as one of the Basterds wiggling his finger inside Diana Kruger’s wounded leg – comes as a relief. A second plot, in which a Jewish woman whose family was butchered by Nazis organizes a film screening to assassinate Hitler and Goebbels – is more succinctly and powerfully handled.

...this time? It’s not so much inglorious as undistinguished.

The UK Times:

...Tarantino's film, which jumps like a needle on a scratchy vinyl record between three languages, bears scant resemblance to Castellari's Italian original. Here, a small group of blood-thirsty Jewish mercenaries from America, led by Brad Pitt's red-neck, half-Apache Indian leader, land in France with the mission to put the fear of God into the Nazis. The director deploys his unrivalled army of B-movie tricks to light the way.

The film starts like a spaghetti western and then accelerates into an old-fashioned war-time thriller, complete with a sumptuous plot to blow a local cinema in Paris to smithereens — and with it most of Germany's top military brass. Bullets and blood are never far from the screen.

The Basterds, as Pitt's gang refer to themselves, are introduced like vintage bad-ass cowboys despite the alarmingly incongruous Jewish looks. They ambush German patrols in forests, and proceed to scalp them in lurid closeup. Pitt's leader revels in this comic and macabre campaign, toying with captives before carving swastikas into their foreheads. While German captives gabble for their lives, Pitt's calm, southern drawl is almost comically ruthless.

The fairytale tone of Tarantino's picture is strikingly obvious from the opening line: "Once upon a time... in Nazi-occupied France". The chief villain, a Gestapo officer charged with hunting down Jews, is as familiar and frightening as the Rat Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Chistoph Waltz plays him with a fabulously silky menace, as he sniffs around the Paris cinema in which Joseph Goebbels is about to unveil his new propaganda masterpiece.

On one thrilling level Tarantino paints a surreal revenge fantasy where some of the most toxic villains in history get their grisly dues. The brief glimpse of Hitler with his bullet-ridden face almost perforated beyond recognition made the Cannes audience gasp.

...What's difficult to square is the occasional Springtime for Hitler scenes, featuring an apoplectic Fuhrer, with the darker corners of the film. The almost casual savagery perpetrated by Pitt and his German rival can occasionally look unnervingly out of place next to the lighter Mel Brooks-style moments. That said, this is a fairytale of unusual and thoughtful daring. A return at last by Tarantino to his combustible and operatic best.


...Is it fantasy or reality?

Tarantino himself doesn't see it as a total fantasy, though the movie begins with the words "Once upon a time …"

"People have come up to me a lot and asked me, 'Is it a fairy tale? Is it Jewish wish-fulfillment fantasy — or just a wish-fulfillment fantasy anyway?' " he said during the news conference.

"There are aspects of that, all right. (But) my characters changed the outcome of the war. Now, that didn't happen, because my characters didn't exist. But if they had existed … all the things that happen later in the movie are plausible."

For Hostel films director Eli Roth, who steps out from behind the camera to play one of the Basterd sergeants, the Jewish wish-fulfillment theory worked. Getting a crack (literally in his case, with a baseball bat) at German High Command was a kind of comical catharsis.

"Being Jewish, this is definitely for me like Kosher porn," Roth joked. "It's something I fantasized about since I was a very young child."

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