In the new film Inglourious Basterds, writer/director Quentin Tarantino offers up a revenge fantasy that I can totally identify with: dorky-looking Jewish guys killing Nazis.
And sure enough, when Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and hundreds of Germans get what’s coming to them in the same brutal style that they have shown millions of other innocent people, it’s a cool thrill.
Still, the movie itself leaves a bit to be desired, so the fantasy never quite feels complete.
And as a result, Inglourious Basterds is a bit of a disappointment.
Set mostly in Nazi-occupied France in the early 1940s, Basterds presents an alternate universe where it’s possible that a hillbilly U.S. Army Colonel named Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) could assemble a secret ops team made up of American Jews (played by folks like The Office‘s B.J. Novak and Freaks and Geeks‘ Samm Levine) who are all out to take their revenge on the Nazis. Raine gives them all this assignment: Bring me 100 scalps of any German soldiers you can find. (This being a Tarantino film, you can bet they do.)
Simultaneously, Shosanna, (Mélanie Laurent), whose family was killed by Nazis in a tense opening scene, seeks to take her own revenge at the movie theater she now owns, where the Nazi party will host the premiere of its latest propaganda film, Nation’s Pride.
Basterds, for reasons I can’t quite understand, is broken up into chapters, and it doesn’t fill in a whole lot of the Basterds’ backstory, or even their midstory. We have no idea who this Raine guy is, or how the Basterds were assembled. Nor do we know how they’re able to get around France without being detected. Tarantino just cuts to the chase, so to speak, and only shows them in action. And in fact, Shosanna is perhaps the most fully developed character in the whole movie.
In characteristic style, Basterds is very violent at times. But in a way, I didn’t find it violent enough. I wanted the film to be looser, grittier, funnier, less talky, and more over the top. I wanted more action, more brutality. More ass-kicking by the Jews. More scenes like the one where Eli Roth’s Staff Sergeant Donny Donowitz, a baseball bat-swinging Nazi hunter from Boston, beats up on a German soldier.
And I also could have done without the distraction of Mike Myers (under some heavily caked-on makeup) playing a British government official.
In short, Basterds is a long way from Pulp Fiction and the much better films that Tarantino was making in the mid-1990s. So that’s why it’s only getting a C+ from me.