In the last two years, two high-profile directors, Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, each took a shot at putting their own brand on a World War II movie, no doubt because of the lure of working with badass villains and ass-kicking good guys, even though the risk for both was they had to operate under the suppressing fire of Steven Spielberg… incoming…
“Inglourious Basterds” is the bloody fractured fairy-tale version of World War II, cooked to a high boil of fantasy and revenge, marched into combat by the starpower of Brad Pitt, where the Jews get a chance to put Hitler in his place in real-time while punishing the dangerous psychopaths who powered the Nazi death machine.
Spike Lee wants us to know that African-Americans fought bravely in World War II, despite the crap they put up with back at home, and so he’s given us “Miracle at St. Anna” about four black soldiers who find themselves in an Italian village, complete with hot women, great dance halls and a little boy who might be the most irritating film creation since Jerry Lewis.
Never mind that school kids all over America are going back to history class confronting their teachers with their newfound knowledge that the war ended in 1944 with Hitler’s death, Quentin Tarantino has at least managed to create a “teaching moment” while Spike Lee seems to have wandered into territory that wants to be taken seriously but seems as ill-informed as his competition’s scream-dream fantasy.
Neither one of these films can hold a candle to “Saving Private Ryan” for guts and glory and sheer steadiness in filmmaking but, at the very least, Quentin Tarantino has avoided being boring and so beats the good intentions of Spike Lee about the head and shoulders and scalps him clean with his own weird, odd and mostly insane “Inglourious Basterds.”