****/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
by Walter Chaw If Inglourious Basterds was an ambiguous, brilliant indictment of "Jewish vengeance" wrapped in this impossibly canny exploration of violence through screenwriting, performance, and love of film, think of Quentin Tarantino's follow-up, Django Unchained, as a glorious continuation of what has become a singular artist's evolving theme. It demonstrates an absolute command of the medium, of what film can do when tasked to do more than usual, and it does it by being some of the finest film criticism of the year. If the Coens are our best literary critics, then Tarantino is our best film critic cum sociologist, and his topics, again, are how we understand history through specific prisms and how violence can be both catharsis and atrocity--often in the same breath and almost always in the same ways. Consider that this difficult film's most difficult moment comes, as it does in Inglourious Basterds, at the very end, in an unbearably ugly act of violence perpetrated against not the expected slave-owner antagonist, Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), but his manservant Stephen/Stepin (Samuel L. Jackson). Consider, too, the idea that vengeance--particularly in our post-9/11 environment--is the proverbial tiger we've caught by the tail: our cultural legacy that we try to justify through any means, given that our ends are so very righteous.