‘Thar’, ‘The Underground Railroad’ reviews


Anil Kapoor: Thar‘s highlight.

Or Thar she blows. Ostensibly director Raj Singh Chaudhary‘s neo-noir western cauldron, the movie begins promisingly enough with a mysterious antique dealer (Harshvardhan Kapoor, very effective and restrained a la The Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s Dollar’s Trilogy) passing through a remote village in Rajasthan looking for specific helping hands for his antique business, who eventually kicks up more than a desert storm. The atmospherics are terrific, whirling like a suffocating whirlpool of a sandy hangover, accentuated by Shreya Dev Dube’s stunning cinematography. A mystified cop, played with tired weariness by the superb Anil Kapoor, tries to make sense of the murders and the goings-on—aided by a bumbling aide: a role that Satish Kaushik can now play with his eyes closed—while Fatima Sana Shaikh suffers and smolders in equal measure and Shakti Mohan adds her own firebrand intensity. By the second half, the movie gives up all pretense of where it’s heading and becomes a voyeuristic vehicle for torture. The only folks having fun in Thar are from the prosthetics department. (Streaming on Netflix)

The Underground Railroad

Thuso Mbedo: into the abyss of slavery.

Director Barry Jenkins creates a world of magical realism in this not-to-be-missed, powerful mini-series that came out in 2021. Based on Colson Whitehead’s novel of the same name, the series is a tough watch, sometimes even frustrating in its pace and space, but never dull. When it doesn’t horrify you, it hypnotizes you as Jenkins paints a canvas of stunning tragedy and hope. Based in the 1800s, it traces the arc of Cora Randall as she attempts to escape slavery and find love and life in a world beyond skin color. Thuso Mbedo plays Randall with a fierce veneer of survivalist bravado and desperation, while Aaron Pierre, as Caesar Garner, her escape mate, and potential soul mate, sprinkles beams of charm, hope, and dignity. As the couple aims to use the secret underground railway passage—a wizardly metaphor for the underground anti-slavery movement—to steam their way across the country to a state and eventually a country that’s non-slaveholding, they have a dogged pursuer on their tracks. That is Joel Edgerton, a dark cloud of danger, as Arnold Ridgeway, a slave catcher who has his own venomous past that Jenkins unfolds in a hammer-like furnace of a flashback. Add the rousing, soul-touching score by Nicholas Britell—especially the chorals and staccato bursts of violin pieces that pierce your gut, freezing you in terror—and you have one of TV’s finest. But it is the 13-year-old Chase Dillon who plays Homer, Ridgeway’s assistant, who’s the haunting highlight of this series. Akin to modern child-warriors, Homer is inscrutable in his behavior, even chaining himself to sleep at night, but devoted to Ridgeway and his cause. Dillon freezes the blood running in your veins in one scene and thaws your saline glands in the next. Watch him at your own peril. But watch you must. (Streaming on Prime)