Radio 08.21.09
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening today at The Majestic Theater in Greenville:                               
            The trouble with making a “once upon a time” film about historical characters is that the viewer has to work even harder to suspend disbelief.  Quentin Tarantino’s World War II spoof, misspelled “Inglourious Basterds,” is much too self-conscious to enable viewers to project themselves out of their theater seats and into the screen.  It begins with convincing menace:  the SS colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, whose “Best Actor” award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was well-deserved) interrogates a hapless French family about harboring Jews, while they hide breathlessly under the floorboards.  Only one escapes, a young woman named Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), who runs to Paris, changes her name, and tries to be obscure while owning a cinema showing German films to Occupation forces. 
            Cue the first bit of revisionist history:  a contingent of Jewish-American troops led by the fearless Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) operates behind enemy lines, systematically eliminating “Natsees” (in Pitt’s wondrously consistent country drawl) and then scalping them to put fear into the hearts of the inglorious bullies of the Third Reich.  They rendez-vous with a beautiful bi-lingual spy, the German actress Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger, who, like Waltz, is actually tri-lingual).  But in the shadowy world of espionage, the tiniest mistake can betray you.  Like a funny accent that you can’t adequately explain.  Or subconsciously using a hand gesture that is unique to your native culture, and not your adopted one.
            Depend on Director Quentin Tarantino to do an amazing job with the scenes of sudden violence (his trademark), and the quiet menace of charming reasonableness as a prelude.  But dancing the fine line between character and caricature will get viewers to wondering if they’re being played.  And then, when the historicity completely breaks down, there’s the sullen disappointment of realizing that some incredibly talented actors have been happily deployed into an awkward farce.  No, Hitler and his inner circle didn’t die in Paris in 1944, and the German High Command was not caught in a theater and machine-gunned during a fire set by the Resistance.  Though there may be a vengeful part of us that would enjoy watching such a righteous slaughter, we then realize that that’s exactly what the “Natsees” in the theater were feeling while watching a Sgt.York-like hero movie of their own, where the skilled sniper gets to slaughter heaps of hapless Americans. 
            It’s just too much high spoof, and not enough downright believability.  Not enough target audience, either.  They may have enjoyed making it, but few outside of film school will enjoy watching it.  “Inglourious Basterds,” indeed.
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93-5 KICK-FM