Movie News & Reviews

Taratino's writing, not violence, carries 'Basterds'

If cutting movie trailers is an art, whoever put together the one forInglourious Basterds must have ordered his training off theback of a matchbook cover.

-- Times, trailer, theaters.

The trailer promises so much Nazi killing that if you tried to listall the Nazis they killed it would take longer than World War IIitself, which is actually only half as long as the average QuentinTarantino film. Those ads suggest so much murder, mayhem, andultra-grisly torture that after the Nazis died their ghosts wouldstill be so scared the shipping industry would never run out ofpacking peanuts again.

Not quite how Tarantino's latest plays out. Brad Pitt bellowing aboutwearing bracelets of shapely ubermensch ears takes a chunk of the runtime, yeah, but I'm afraid the reality doesn't match up with theexpectations (this is why I tell every girl I date that my lastrelationship was with a plastic Chewbacca doll). Fortunately, the vastportions of Inglourious Basterds the trailers pretend don'texist are as good, if different, than the wholesale slaughter ofhistory's greatest villains.

In Nazi-occupied Paris, German war hero Daniel Bruhl is the star andsubject of an upcoming propaganda film. His exploits aren't enough toimpress cinema owner Melanie Laurent, so he shoots for a more dramaticgesture: getting his premiere shifted to her theater.

Many of Germany's highest leaders will attend the premiere, drawingthe attention of Brad Pitt, leader of an elite Nazi-stomping Jewishcommando squad. But Laurent's no friend of the invaders herself — threeyears ago, Nazi soldiers slaughtered her family — and with so many ofthem under her roof, she may be able to take revenge for herself.

Is that revenge violent? C'mon, Tarantino couldn't retell the Nativitywithout the Three Wise Men parachuting through the ceiling with knivesin their teeth bearing gifts of grenades, fully automatic rifles, andmurder. If Inglourious Basterds' scalpings don't get you, thebaseball bat beating or the dizzying kinetic gunfire just might.

Yet that violence is much rarer than the trailers would have youbelieve. Instead, it's the threat of violence that takes center stage.The characters are either infiltrating enemy lines or, in the case ofbrilliant SS investigator Christoph Waltz, actively trying to ferretthose infiltrators out, resulting in slow-burning games of cat andmouse that build the tension until it almost aches. Right around thepoint it gets to be too much — sometimes, maybe, a couple minutes toolong — the scene combusts in a few seconds of hideous and disturbinglyfunny brutality. When it finally arrives, this is violence with acapital violent.

Between those moments (i.e. the ones we came to see), it works becausethe dialogue is so damn good. Tarantino's always been a master ofthat: his writing is so cool it's almost lame. I say that because he's inspired somany crappy filmmakers to make so many crappy heist movies that if ourape-man descendants some day try to learn about us through our cinema, thenthey'll think we spent our entire society shooting each other andhaving arguments with our partner about which pop songs changed ourlives.

This is a WWII movie, not a crime caper, so Tarantino can't lean onhis cool here. Doesn't matter. This time, his dialogue loses thebreezy swagger in favor of a cunning logic brimming with malice andweird humor.

It's good to see the dude get out of his comfort zone, becausealthough here, as always, he takes his time getting to the point, oncehe does, it always pays off. Once those threads all tie together, theyflame up in an explosive ending so anarchic and audacious and insaneit's like it's reaching right down into your guts and giving them astir. The moods and images of Inglourious Basterds are the kindto stick to your memory like melted candy in your purse.

Grade: A-