(director/writer: Quentin Tarantino;cinematographer: Robert Richardson; editor: Sally Menke; music: ; cast: Brad Pitt (Lt. Aldo Raine), Christoph Waltz (Col. Hans Landa), Eli Roth (Sgt. Donny Donowitz), Michael Fassbender (Lt. Archie Hicox), Diane Kruger (Bridget von Hammersmark), Daniel Brühl (Fredrick Zoller), Mélanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus), Denis Menochet (French Farmer, Perrier LaPadite), August Diehl (Gestapo Major), Sylvester Groth (Joseph Goebbels), Mike Myers (Gen. Ed Fenech), Rod Taylor (Winston Churchill), Jacky Ido (Marcel), Martin Wuttke (Hitler); Runtime: 153; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Lawrence Bender; Weinstein Company, The and Universal Pictures; 2009-USA/Germany/France-in English, German, French and Italian, with English subtitles)
“An unrealistic over-the-top madcap WW II drama that seamlessly mixes violence, vulgarian comedy and cinema lore.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”/”Kill Bill: Vol. 1″/”Reservoir Dogs”) shows off his film buff props and his filmmaking skills as he films an unrealistic over-the-top madcap WW II drama that seamlessly mixes violence, vulgarian comedy and cinema lore (like references to G.W. Pabst, Leni Riefenstahl and Emil Jannings) together in this crowd-pleasing fairy tale ‘Jewish revenge on the Nazis’ film. The history of World War II is radically altered so that the Third Reich could be destroyed when viewing one of its propaganda films in a Paris arthouse theater in occupied-France. It’s all re-worked from its conventional action-picture genre roots into a brazen and nutty no-holds-barred Tarantino original. Tarantino’s heroic titular group is a special unit of the U.S. Army on a suicidal mission to kill all Nazis in uniform behind enemy lines, and their group name has been deliberately misspelled (it takes its cues from Italian Enzo Castellari’s little known schlocky 1978 Dirty Dozen ripoff film in the 1970s).
The film is divided into five “chapters.” In the first chapter entitled “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France,” notorious Nazi Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, Austrian actor) of the S.S., known as the “Jew Hunter,” arrives by motorcycle at a remote farmhouse and after enjoying his own cleverness in grilling a nervous farmer (Denis Menochet) uncovers a hidden Jewish family of farmers under the kitchen floorboards. His S.S. troops kill the family, but the 18-year-old girl Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) escapes over the hill. She reappears three years later, in 1944, with a new identity and as the owner of a small arthouse cinema in occupied Paris. There she’s hit upon by a brash Nazi war hero, Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), who calls himself “the German Sgt. York” for his exploits as a sniper in a ‘bird’s nest’ taking out more than a hundred Allied soldiers singlehandedly. The slimy Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) celebrated the heroics in a new German movie, “Nation’s Pride,” starring Zoller himself and has come to Paris with all the leading Nazis for its premiere. Shosanna is compelled to hold the premiere in her theater, as Zoller is smitten with her and won’t be put off by her coldness to him. But unwittingly this event gives Shosanna a chance to get back at the Nazi killers, as with her black projectionist lover (Jacky Ido) she plans on blowing up the theater with all the Nazis present.
The film cuts back and forth from Shosanna’s story to tell of a ruthless part-Apache hillbilly Southerner, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who recruits eight Jewish-American volunteers to be commandos and to slaughter Nazis, and they develop a great rep throughout Germany bashing in the heads of Nazis with a baseball bat (courtesy of Sgt. Donny Donowitz–shock film director Eli Roth), carving swastikas in the foreheads of those they chose to free and scalping the others (showing the Nazis that Jews also can act like Nazis).
It all leads to the convoluted “Operation Kino,” whereby a suave British commando leader (a film critic in civilian life, whose expertise is German cinema), Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), who is told by General Fenech (Mike Myers, in an excellent acting performance) that the opening of Nation’s Pride will take place within three days. Thereby we have Shosanna’s own plot to blow up the Nazis and the Brits, in league with the Basterds, who plan to infiltrate the premiere to blow it up as they have put Germany’s top actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) on their payroll as a secret agent and she is making arrangements to get the spies into the premiere as her guests.
The film was shot at Babelsberg Studio outside Berlin. It has superior production values, and is very entertaining though it could have been trimmed from its overlong length and not have lost a thing. The German cast give powerful performances especially the oily and loquacious Waltz (an Oscar worthy performance), who steals the pic from headliner star Pitt’s less showy but enjoyable gleefully ruthless Southern drawl characterization. It operates in the same light as a Hollywood blockbuster action-packed mainstream film, but though the premise is juvenile and the violence cartoonish it is nevertheless so much smarter, more inventive and more fiercely unapologetic of its amoral dramatization than most Hollywood films. It comes at you with the nutty sense of an ice pick wielder terrorizing what was thought to be familiar ground in cinema and offering instead through all its graphic brutality and odd chatter a strange new looking glass for WW II films.
REVIEWED ON 8/22/2009 GRADE: B+