Surprised no one’s made much of the Black Book comparisons — the last can-you-top-this? movie about Nazis and Jews, and in its commingling of the absurd, vulgar, and melodramatic, Verhoeven’s a more entertaining and honest film than Schindler’s List. The Straw Dogs vigilante-type stuff made me cringe but it’s mitigated by the clear indication that, like To Be or Not To Be, Inglorious Basterds is as much about acting, in the meta and real world, as it is about WWII: acting as survival (Shoshanna), acting for the thrill of giving a great performance (Landa), acting buffoonish to keep the horror at bay (Raine and his Basterds). Having served their purpose as marketing lures, I’m glad Quentin Tarantino relegated their Dirty Dozen antics to the background, which, I guess, explains why Brad Pitt is still in Burn After Reading mode, so busy telegraphing that he’s telegraphing buffoonishness.
But it’s the same sensibility that made Jackie Brown: a sensibility confident enough to allow its referents to enrich the scenes. Coming two years after Seth Rogen’s crew in Knocked Up praised Munich‘s kick-ass Jews, and almost thirty since Mel Brooks teased us with the possibility of watching “Hitler On Ice,” another sacrilegious take on Holocaust fare isn’t so striking. What troubled me is structuring the movie as a daisy chain of provocations; imagine watching three or four variants on Pulp Fiction‘s Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta turning the screws on those Frank Whaley’s young punks. Tarantino isn’t a hostage to history, he rapes it. If you’ve always wanted to see Adolf Hitler treated like Cobra Commander, complete with ermine cape, here’s your chance. With the exception of Michael Fassbender, the somewhat overrated Christoph Waltz (what’s the matter, never seen Conrad Veidt or Ivan Triesault before?), and brief, intense work in the movie’s first scene by Denis Menochet, none of the performers project beyond Tarantino’s intentions. The only terrible scene (hi, Winston Churchill) is over in three minutes. He’s filmed a live-action cartoon which relies on sixty years of collective memory for resonance, refracted through the prism of camp. If you’re a fan of To Be or Not To Be or Black Book, you understand what he brings off here.