Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA/Germany, 2009. Universal Pictures, The Weinstein Company, A Band Apart, Studio Babelsberg, Visiona Romantica. Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino. Cinematography by Robert Richardson. Produced by Lawrence Bender. Production Design by David Wasco. Costume Design by Anna B. Sheppard. Film Editing by Sally Menke. Academy Awards 2009. Cannes Film Festival 2009. Golden Globe Awards 2009. New York Film Critics 2009.
There’s a scene, relatively early on in this picture, when a member of the titular special elite force of Jewish American soldiers secretly operating in Germany finishes his killing of a soldier by scalping him in graphic detail for the camera to see. Director Quentin Tarantino is letting the audience know that this level of brutality is what you can expect to see for the next two hours: if you don’t like it, now’s a good time to leave. Then the spiffy American auteur shocks those bold enough to stay in their seat by reversing the expectation and presenting a film that, while still maintaining scenes of gun-blasting, knife-wielding, bomb-blowing mayhem, is mostly reliant on conversation and quiet, dramatic intensity. Christoph Waltz plays a near-loopy S.S. bigwig who discovers a Jewish family hiding in a French country house and murders them all save their daughter (Mélanie Laurent), who escapes. Later she takes over a movie theatre and, upon meeting a German Sergeant York (Daniel Brühl) sees an opportunity to get revenge. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt leads the aforementioned force of vengeance-seeking soldiers who are plotting to end the war by killing Hitler and all his elite. Little does he know that the operation he is planning, to assassinate Hitler, Goebbels, etc. while they watch the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film in Laurent’s movie theatre, coincides with the young woman’s own designs. The film mainly plays out in a few lengthy, grounded sequences, scenes of long conversations whose innocuous nature is the familiar distraction that Tarantino provides before using guns as the surprise punchline. Individually the scenes all work very well; a basement tavern sequence with a mesmerizing Diane Kruger is a masterful piece, as is the climax in the cinema, but there’s something lacking. The connection of cause and effect between the events of the film is brittle at best and the end result not as emotionally satisfying as Uma Thurman’s revenge in the Kill Bill movies. It is still a worthy enterprise, even if it does feature a very silly fantasy version of historical events, and the performances are all superb; Waltz is a first among equals as the masterfully terrifying yet slightly loopy murderer who speaks five languages but can’t master the English idiom when it comes to yelling “Bingo”.