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Review: 'Inglourious Basterds'

Tarantino turns history on its head in this World War II fantasy where the Jews come out on top.

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There's lots more plot in this 2-1/2-hour fantasia, and, despite its action-movie origins, lots of talk. It's the least virtuosic movie Tarantino has ever made. Many of the sequences drag on unduly, especially an early scalping scene, which could have been scalped by at least 10 minutes, and several set pieces involving a German glamour queen and Allied secret agent (Diane Kruger). As is standard with Tarantino, the baddest of the bad guys get the best dialogue – in this case, the dreaded Nazi "Jew Hunter" Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), who first decimates Shosanna's family and then carries on from there.

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Landa is such a wily and despicable concoction that, in movie terms, he's almost impossible not to like. And therein lies part of my problem with this movie. Tarantino may have set out to make a World War II film where the Jews come out on top, but he can't resist indulging in the same old penny dreadful shenanigans as all the other pulpmeisters who feature villains you love to hate. No one else in "Inglourious Basterds" comes close to Landa for sheer charisma.

Tarantino, who is not Jewish, may be genuine in his desire to make the un-"Schindler's List" but there's absolutely no irony, no pathos, in his game plan. Doesn't he realize that making a righteous fantasy about the Jewish incineration of the Nazi brass only reinforces the sad reality that, tragically, this never happened? Knowing what we know, how can we look at this film and cheer?

I have another large difficulty with this film. Tarantino's fantasy implies that if only there had been Jews like the Basterds, there would not have been an Auschwitz. This ahistoric revisionism is pure malarkey, but it may seep into the moviegoing consciousness of audiences, including young Jewish audiences, who might come to believe that a few roving bands of renegade Jewish scalpers might have terminated this whole Holocaust thing.

That's the trouble with filmmakers like Tarantino. Their heads are so crammed with old movies that they confuse movies with real life. And what may have been intended as a screw-loose tribute to Jewish gumption ends up its opposite. Grade: B- (Rated R for strong graphic violence, language, and brief sexuality.)

Related: In Germany, an ovation for "Inglourious Basterds"

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