Asskicking Jews in Film

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Call it inspired timing, or just a coincidence, but here we are, right in the middle of Hanukkah, and this week marks the DVD release of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. For those of you paying attention, I had somewhat mixed feelings about Inglourious Basterds (you can read my review here), and after watching the movie a second time, I definitely did not grow in my appreciation. Still, the parts of the movie that I initially enjoyed remained entertaining—specifically the parts with the kill-crazy Jewish commandos laying waste to Nazi scum. And it was the parts of Inglourious Basterds that I enjoyed the most that got me to thinking about other films with asskicking Jews. By no stretch of the imagination is this a comprehensive list of Jewish Asskicker Films, but it is a little something I threw together for you, my dear and loyal readers.

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RAID ON ENTEBBE (1977) – This made for television movie is one of two based on true events (the other is Victory at Entebbe). In 1976, terrorists hijacked an Israeli plane and took over 100 hostages. The hijackers flew the plane to Uganda, where crazed dictator Idi Amin granted the terrorists sanctuary. The Israelis responded by sending in a commando unit that kicked ass. Charles Bronson co-stars as Brigadier General Dan Shomron, who leads the raid. Although this isn’t Bronson’s best work, he does a stellar job as a super badass Jew. An interesting side note: Yaphet Kotto co-stars as Idi Amin, giving a much better performance than Forest Whitaker’s in The Last King of Scotland. In real life, Kotto is Jewish, and Amin was a notorious anti-Semite.

MUNICH (2006) – Also inspired by true events, Steven Spielberg’s film takes place in the aftermath of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, where members of the terrorist group Black September murdered members of the Israeli team. Eric Bana stars as Avner Kaufman, a member of the Israeli Mossad, charged with leading a covert team whose mission is to track down the terrorists and kill them. A meditative and emotionally complex deconstruction of revenge films, Munich focuses more on the psychological impact the mission takes on Avner and his men then on the action itself, in effect making the movie something of an anti-action film. You should also check out the documentary, One Day In September, which recounts the events at the Munich Olympic Games.

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984) – Best known for seminal westerns like For a Few Dollars More, Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, director Sergio Leone’s sprawling tale of Jewish gangsters in America is a true epic. Spanning 40 years and clocking in at just under four hours, Robert DeNiro stars as gangster David “Noodles” Aaronson, whose life of crime is the axis around which this story revolves.

BUGSY (1991) – Warren Beatty stars as legendary Jewish gangster Bugsy Siegel, who basically turned Las Vegas into the city it now is. This is one of director Barry Levinson’s better films, and probably the last great performance by Beatty. The character Moe Greene in The Godfather, played by Alex Rocco, was based on Bugsy Siegel, and several actors including Harvey Keitel and Armand Assante played him in other movies. Ben Kingsley also gives a great performance as Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky. There was a made for television movie made about Lansky, starring Richard Dreyfuss, but I haven’t seen it.

CASINO (1995) – It’s been ages since I last saw director Martin Scorsese’s Casino, and to be honest, I don’t even recall if I liked it that much. But it does star Robert DeNiro in another unforgettable role as a Jewish gangster, Sam “Ace” Rothstein. James Woods, who co-starred with DeNiro in Once Upon a Time in America is also in this film. I really need to watch this one again.

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DEFIANCE (2008) – I won’t lie…I haven’t seen this film. And since Edward Zwick directed it, there’s a good chance I never will. But it is about Jewish resistance fighters in World War II, led by Daniel Craig. Rocketed to stardom as James Bond in Casino Royale, Craig also co-starred as one of the Jewish hit squad in Munich.

SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) – It isn’t an action flick, and there isn’t any asskicking so much as truly gut-wrenching violence, but Ben Kingsley’s performance as Oskar Schindler really is one of the best Jewish characters in cinema. This is also one of Steven Spielberg’s best films.

HEBREW HAMMER (2003) – I haven’t seen it, but my friend CK likes it.

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INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) – Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist take on World War II is too uneven for me, but there are some great performances and equally great moments as the Nazis get their asses served to them.

PASSOVER PLOT (1976) – Seldom seen, long forgotten, and based on an incredibly controversial book, this needs-to-be-rediscovered classic speculates about the final days of Jesus/Yeshua. In this recounting of Yeshua’s last days, he and his apostles are hardcore Jewish freedom fighters trying to break Rome’s oppressive grasp on Israel. He concocts a plan to fake his own death and resurrection, hoping it will inspire his people to fight back, but things go terribly wrong. And while I didn’t like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, it certainly showed that Jesus could take an asswhoopin’ like no one else could.

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