There were more than a few critics shaking the death rattle of “Inglourious Basterds” before its impressive opening weekend silenced them.
Riffing on a two-page spread in Newsweek called “When Jews Attack” by Daniel Mendelsohn, former Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that he found the film “deeply offensive” and “profoundly stupid.”
“[Inglourious Basterds] didn’t even entertain me past its opening sequence, and profoundly bored me during the endlessly protracted build-up to a cellar shoot-out,” Rosenbaum wrote on his website. And as if that weren’t rotten tomato-y enough, he added, “it also gave me the sort of malaise that made me wonder periodically what it was (and is) about the film that seems morally akin to Holocaust denial, even though it proudly claims to be the opposite of that.”
We should remember, however, that Rosenbaum is a film critic and the triumph of ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is not necessary one of content but one of marketing. Praise Harvey Weinstein, whose gloomy recent interview with the New York Times had many believing he is on his way out. But this weekend’s $37.6 million domestically and $27.1 million more overseas cemented his legacy as the master of movie marketing.
Sharon Waxman breaks down his brilliance on her blog, Waxword:
The trailer was all about Aldo Raine (Pitt) indoctrinating his band of Jewish soldiers in the cult of brutality (scalping! cool!) they intend to impose on the Nazis.
But in reality, that’s a minor piece of the film.
Instead, Tarantino has made an extremely sophisticated World War II fantasy, layered with rich characters, taut dialogue and (in my book) at least two scenes that will be written about in cinema study classes (the opening scene, and the one in the bar; if you haven’t seen the movie I’m not going to ruin it for you).
Brad Pitt is in neither of those scenes. Dirty little secret: Pitt is in barely one third of the film.
But the Weinsteins needed young males to open this movie. And so they pulled a brilliant bait and switch, selling the movie on Pitt’s stardom and Tarantino’s slice-and-dice reputation from severed ears in “Reservoir Dogs” to piles of samurai-ed corpses in “Kill Bill.” (Not to mention “Grindhouse.”)
It’s too early to tell if ‘Basterds’ can save The Weinstein Company from imminent doom—there’s still a slate of unreleased films that could make or break the mini-major. But, at least for now, the Weinstein brothers are out of the ‘Grindhouse,’ I mean—the dog house.