As is spoken toward the end of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” by a devilish SS commander (played superbly by Christoper Waltz), “The shoe is on the other foot.” Waltz’ character, Hans “the Jew Hunter” Landa, says this to Basterds Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and Private Smithson Utivitch (comedian B.J. Novak) after they are captured while trying to blow up a Nazi film premier. And it’s just a few scenes after Landa’s strangling of a German actress after outing her as a spy by matching her foot to a shoe found at the scene of a Basterds-incited slaughter.
The theme of the movie, it seems, is the shoe being on the other foot (just one of several American colloquialisms spoken with great curiosity by the film’s Nazis): Jews hunting and brutally murdering Nazis … well, that’s really it.
Tarantino uses this irony as a vehicle to display his fetishes for Ennio Morricone music, brutal violence, great directors of yore and scenes of extended dialogue.
Presented in five chapters, “Basterds” is entertaining, but it feels scattered and without context; there is only one scene in which the Basterds are out killing Nazis (the end, where a theater full of them are killed, doesn’t count, because the Basterds are not completely responsible), and the only back story we’re given on the group is a weak scene, in which Raine explains to the pre-Basterds that he needs some men to go behind enemy lines to kill “Nat-zees.” It’s like reading five random — but fun — chapters of a book that has 12.
Enjoy the movie for all the work Tarantino put into crafting dialogue, creating tension and — more so than the horrors perpetuated by the Nazis — examining the meaning of film as an accurate depiction of history and social issues (if you don’t know what the movie “King Kong” was about, it’s in this movie). But, throughout, you may find yourself wondering why it doesn’t add up to much but a shot of Hitler’s fat head being decimated by a machine gun.
"Inglourious Basterds." 153 minutes. Rated R.