Over the weekend, I finally saw Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, Inglourious Basterds, a World War II fantasy in which a group of Jewish American soldiers infiltrate Europe and go on a Nazi killing spree as a means of instilling fear in the minds of German soldiers. While on this mission, the team gets the chance to take out the German high command, including Hitler, who are all attending the premiere of a German film valorizing the exploits of a German soldier.

Here’s the trailer:

Some of Quentin Tarantino’s films, such as Kill Bill, Death Proof, and Pulp Fiction, are among my favorite movies. But my response to this movie is rather complicated, and I ultimately have to say that I didn’t enjoy it like I had hoped (and thought) I would.

I’m ok with the fantasy of killing Nazis, but I had a problem with the films combination of humor with the typical gruesomeness of Tarantino’s violence. Brad Pitt’s scenes are all great — and mostly hilarious. But some of the other humor just doesn’t work for me. I can’t get past the fact that this is WWII and the Holocaust. It’s not particularly funny and doesn’t seem appropriate to try to make it so.

For example, the stunt casting of Mike Meyers as an English General just doesn’t work. It’s too Dr. Strangelove in a movie that’s not crazy enough to be Dr. Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, which is clearly what Tarantino is trying to emulate. I guess that’s really my problem with this movie: it doesn’t go far enough; it’s stuck in between being respectful and being satirically funny.

The other problematic aspect of the film is what it’s satirizing, if it’s a satire. Is it the Germans and Nazis? Is it the perceived Jewish desire for revenge? Or is it something else entirely?

PJ, who really likes this movie, argues that the movie is about the power of movies, since they play a central role in the film’s final climax. He also maintains that the film critiques both the Nazis and those who want revenge; by the end, those who want revenge are indistinguishable from the Nazis. That all makes sense to me, but it’s difficult for me to get over the hump of the fact that the Nazis actually killed 6 million people in a systematic and institutionalized way.

The violence in my favorite Tarantino movies works for me because it’s never the point in and of itself, which is how it feels in Inglourious Basterds. Plus the artistic fun of those movies isn’t tarnished by the constant reminder that real people suffered from just this sort of violence in real life.

That said, I though Pitt’s performance in this movie was wonderful. His southern Lt. Aldo Raine is hilarious in his passion for killing Nazis. And Melanie Laurent deserves an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress. She plays the victim of Nazi violence who takes full advantage of the opportunity to get back at her previous tormentors. Finally, Christoph Waltz is excellent as a scarily wily Nazi colonel.

Inglourious Basterds is an interesting movie that’s trying to do something unique and brilliant, but all things that I love about Tarantino’s movies just don’t work for me when WWII becomes the backdrop.

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